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, August 31, 2014

Para-Cycling World Championship Weekend

Robert and I took an overnight trip to Greenville, SC for a weekend of cycling - our own and that of some elite athletes.  The 2014 UCI Para-Cyling World Road Race Championships were the impetus for our trip.  We became tuned into this type of racing because Robert has a cycling coach who also coaches a number of para-cyclists.  How amazing that this epic competition was held so close to our home.

We headed out from home pretty early yesterday morning.  Our destination for the afternoon was north of Greenville, close to the North Carolina/South Carolina state line.  We had ridden in this area back in May when we took a long weekend trip for our anniversary.  We enjoyed it so much that we suggested to our teammates that we hold our team camp there this year.  In preparation for our camp in October, Robert and I did a little recon yesterday.  We did an out-and-back route that took us up Caesars Head, one of the southernmost peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The climb up to Caesars Head was about seven miles long at a 6% grade.  It took us 42 minutes.  I didn't try to race it, but I went at a good, steady pace.  Back in May we climbed Skyuka Mountain to the east, which has a grade of about 8%.  There's a noticeable difference between 6% and 8%.  Yesterday's climb certainly wasn't as easy as lying on the sofa eating bonbons, but it was easier than climbing Skyuka Mountain.

Robert had planned our route.  After the significant climb to the summit, he knew that we would want some food and/or beverages.  This was the first time either of us had been up Caesars Head.  That's why I was rather baffled when he asked me, "What's on top of Caesars Head?"  I replied, "A laurel wreath."

For a little while, I was on top of Caesars Head
Before descending back the way we came, we stopped at a restaurant near the peak for ice cream - strawberry for Robert and mint chocolate chip for me.  A musician was sitting outside of the restaurant, playing the guitar and harmonica and singing.  She was like a female Bob Dylan.

After our ride, we drove south to our hotel in downtown Greenville.  It was nice to have plenty of time to clean up, relax, and wander around before our 7:30 P.M. dinner reservation.  Greenville has numerous good restaurants, and thanks to Internet, we've found a couple of really good ones on our two visits there.  Last night we ate at The Lazy Goat.  How can you not want to eat at a restaurant called The Lazy Goat?  Actually, it appealed to us because they serve tapas.  Even better, it's right next to Falls Park on the Reedy River.  Greenville has done a spectacular job of renovating its downtown, and Falls Park with its impressive suspension footbridge is the focal point.

We were able to get a seat outside.  It was a beautiful evening, warm and sunny.  Our seats were in a quiet corner of the patio next to a lovely water feature.

Robert enjoying some Spanish sparking wine
Robert wanted to take my picture, but he didn't want it to be too posed.  So he made me laugh.

He can always make me laugh by saying just one line from a particular joke.  It's not even the punchline.  The joke comes from the Prairie Home Companion Pretty Good Joke Book, Volumes 1-4:

A man was very unhappy that he had no romance in his life whatsoever.  So, he went to a Chinese sex therapist, Dr. Chang, who looked at him and said, "OK, take off all your crose."  Which the man did.  "Now, get down and crawl reery fass to the other side of room."  Which the man did.  "OK now crawl reery fass to me."  Which the man did.  Dr. Chang said, "Your probrem velly bad, you haf Ed Zachary Disease."  The man said, "What is Ed Zachary Disease?"  "It when your face rook Ed Zachary rike your ass."

Several years ago, Robert and I went camping near the Okefenokee Swamp with our friends Ron and Shannon.  We were sitting around the campfire one night and started telling jokes.  When I told this one, Shannon and I got so tickled that we couldn't stop laughing.  For weeks afterwards, when I called her on the phone and she answered, I greeted her with "OK, take off all your crose," which would send us into fits of laughter all over again.  So, now if Robert wants to make me laugh, he just has to say, "OK, take off all your crose."

That was a delicious dinner at The Lazy Goat.  All of the dishes are Mediterranean.  We had a couple of tapas to share: 1) garlic shrimp and 2) mussels and chorizo served with crostini to sop up the savory juices.  We also ordered an entree each.  Robert had some kind of delicious fish served whole, and I got some Moroccan chicken with couscous and a tahini yogurt sauce.  I rarely order chicken in a restaurant, but this was incredibly flavorful.  Oh, we also ordered a whole bottle of wine instead of just a glass each like we usually do.  Having walked from our hotel, we had to take advantage of not having to drive anywhere.

It was only a little after 9:00 P.M. when we finished dinner, and so we decided to stay out a while later.  We went to a coffee shop and sat outside to people watch.  I'm not a coffee drinker, but I did enjoy a smoothie.  They had a seasonal muscadine flavor.  I absolutely love muscadines, which are a wild grape native to the Southeast.  I haven't yet had any fresh ones this season (I plan to pick some after work one day this next week), and so I figured that this smoothie would be a good preview.  It was tasty - not as good as the real thing but enough to sharpen my anticipation.

I got a good night's sleep.  In fact, Robert was surprised that I didn't hear the rainstorm lashing against the window in the middle of the night.  Fortunately, the weather was clear as we ventured out of the hotel for breakfast.  We tried another coffee shop.  As we waited for our food, I was amused by this coupon:

I'll come back next week; I want 100% of my order
We went back to the hotel, checked out, and headed for the races.  Our timing was just right for the 10:30 A.M. race.  We walked around beforehand, enjoying the festive atmosphere that all big cycling races have.  The barricades, start/finish line, and other parts of the setup reminded me of the Tour de Georgia, the pro race held in Georgia for several years about a decade ago.  With this being a world championship, I had fun trying to see how many countries I could identify from the athletes' cycling kits.

As Robert and I waiting for the race to start, I did a little Googling to learn more about para-cycling classifications.  Each classification has three parts.  First is M or W, which refers to gender.  The second part indicates the type of cycle used. There are four divisions: C, H, T, and B.  C is the cycle division, which includes athletes on bicycles pretty much like those that people without disabilities use.  H is hand cycles, used by people without the use of their lower limbs.  T is tricycles for people with balance issues.  B is for blind/visually impaired athletes, who race on tandems with sighted pilots.  (I was interested to learn that the person in front is called a pilot rather than a captain, which is the term we recreational tandem riders use for the person in front.)  The third part of the classification is a number indicating the severity of the athlete's impairment.  It ranges from 1 to 5 with 5 being the least impaired.

The first group was the MC4 and MC5 racers and had about 50 competitors.  We could differentiate between the men's classifications because the MC4 men wore white helmets and the MC5 men wore red helmets.  Some of their impairments were obvious, and others weren't.  Overall, they had the same air of confidence that elite cyclists always have at races.

Rick, Robert's coach, gave an example of a type of injury that might not be noticeable.  He told us about one racer who has had a traumatic brain injury.  He seems fine on the bicycle, but if you ask him to walk backwards, he can't do it.  Also, an athlete's classification may or may not stay the same.  Obviously, an amputee's condition doesn't change, but other conditions may improve or worsen over time.  These athletes can have their classifications changed a number of times as they are re-evaluated over the years.

One of the racers that I particularly noticed was a man missing his right arm and left leg.  I've done yoga twice in my life, both times in the last several months.  I have difficulty with only one move.  I don't know the name of it, but it involves kneeling on your hands and knees and lifting one hand and one leg on opposite sides.  For some reason, every time I try this move, I lose my balance and crash into my mat.  Therefore, I imagine that this para-cyclist with missing opposite limbs must have exceptional balance.

Here are the men at the starting line.  You can see a good variety of nationalities.  There were cyclists from five continents: Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.

The WC1, WC2, and WC3 road race started two minutes after the men.  Although there were only 11 women in this race, they were just as tough as the men.  These are the two WC1 women who competed, one from Australia and one from China.

Both of them had conditions that caused them to shake noticeably, likely muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy.  Rick said that the Chinese racer shakes so much off of the bike that you wonder how she manages at all.  It's amazing that there's something about cycling that allows them to control their muscles better, let alone well enough to compete at world championships!  The WC1 women did several fewer laps than the other women; I assume that those with more severe disabilities don't race as far.  These two women were close together throughout their race.  It was a photo finish; Jieli Li from China eked out the win!

The race course was a loop approximately 10 km long, which the racers completed a number of times, up to about 100 km in the men's race.  Robert and I had a great vantage point as we stood near the start/finish in the median of a road shaded by crape myrtles.  We could watch the racers approach on one side of the median and see them again a couple of minutes later on the other side of the median after they made a turn at the end of the course.

Here's a little video, too:

Just as in any cycling race, mechanicals are always possible.  This Slovakian had a flat on his rear tire.  Someone from his team car jumped out, swapped the wheel, and adjusted the chain - all in about 30 seconds.  Isn't it ironic that this occurred right next to the Bike Lane Ends sign?

Between the men's and women's groups, a few breakaways, and a few people who went off the back, the intervals where we didn't see any racers weren't too long.  Announcers and a live stream that was projected onto a big screen helped us keep up with the action on other parts of the course.  Some interesting dynamics were happening in the WC2 and WC3 races.  Allison Jones, a WC2 racer from the U.S., broke away from her group early on.  It was obvious that she would win her race.  Joining her in the breakaway were the two WC3 racers, Jamie Whitmore Cardenas from the U.S. and Denise Schindler from Germany.  Allison and Jamie were not competing against each other, but they were on the same U.S. team.  Therefore, they worked together to make things more difficult for Denise.  They repeatedly allowed gaps to form in front of Denise as they took turns pulling, forcing her to put out more effort.  Their team tactics paid off; Jamie and Denise battled it out to the finish, but Jamie took first!

Robert and I needed to get on the road home, and so we didn't stay all the way to the end of the men's race.  On our way out, we walked by the podiums, where the winners would be announced later in the afternoon.

I noticed that the podiums are much shorter than the ones I usually see.  As I continued walking past the stage, I saw that not only are they shorter, they have ramps on the back:

Although it's not something I've ever considered before, this makes perfect sense for the para-cyclists.

Robert says that I'm the one that always comes up with the fun and interesting things for us to do.  I beg to differ; this weekend was completely his idea, and I'm so glad he came up with it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut; Sometimes You Don't

I love Tuesday Worlds (weekly group rides) for lots of reasons.  One of the main ones is that I ride with many guys who are stronger riders than I am, which only makes me stronger.  The crazy thing is that on any given week, I never know exactly how I'm going to perform.  Some weeks I start out feeling pretty icky but wind up riding well.  Other weeks I feel pretty good but get dropped like a hot potato.

Last Tuesday I wasn't expecting to do particularly well.  I had a good bit of volume from the weekend (200K brevet on Saturday and a 53-mile solo ride on Sunday) plus my regular Monday spin class.  As Tuesday Worlds progressed, however, I felt better and better.  In fact, I attacked up two different climbs.  I never attack; my goal is always just to hang on as long as possible.  I was grateful for a strong ride that day and realized that I was in great form for the state TT championship the following Saturday.

We do the same ride every Tuesday, and there are a few spots along the route where I'm vulnerable.  They are generally at turns where the group accelerates.  If there is a downhill just after the turn, that's the worst; the guys are generally heavier than I am and simply descend more quickly.  I concentrate as we approach these tough spots.  Each time I successfully navigate one, I feel more confident about staying with the group until the end.  The route is a lollipop with the first and last five or so miles covering the same roads.  If I can make it back to the big rollers on the return trip on Zebulon Road, I'm usually in good shape because I can hold my own on the climbs.  The key is to get to that point.

I didn't do so on today's Tuesday Worlds.  I'm not shocked that I got dropped tonight (it was a pretty tough ride, and the state TT this past Saturday was a big effort for me), but for a long time I thought I would hang in there.  After making it through the first few difficult spots, I was even thinking about very non-cycling stuff while I rode (what would be a good, professional looking outfit to wear to an important client meeting later this week).  Alas, it was not to last.  I got dropped at my final vulnerable point.  Oh, well - I kept a steady tempo pace as I rode the rest of the route by myself and enjoyed the lovely late August evening.

If I could bottle that cycling mojo, I'd make a mint.

Monday, August 25, 2014

State Time Trial Championships

The state time trial (TT) championships were on Saturday.  Between traveling to and from Gainesville, GA that day and going to the REO Speedwagon/Chicago concert at Chastain Park in Atlanta yesterday, I’m just now getting caught up on my race report!

Dingo Race Productions put on the state TT, and they did a great job.  I really appreciate them stepping up to take this on.  The Georgia TT calendar has been pretty lean this year.  Peachtree Bikes did not sponsor a TT series this year as they have for the previous two because, unfortunately, they suffered a devastating fire at their main shop last December.  Understandably, they have had to focus their resources on rebuilding this year.  Also, the Healthy Newton Omnium, which is usually in June, was cancelled this year.  Therefore, I did only three races this year: the Tundra TT in February, the Georgia Cycling Gran Prix TT last month, and the state TT.  There was a TT in June in Rome, but it was scheduled rather late, and I had already planned to do the Solstice 300K brevet that day.


Despite the dearth of TT’s, I trained hard this year for the events that I did race.  I do TT intervals once a week for six to eight weeks before a race.  Therefore, back in June I started my TT training for the Georgia Cycling Gran Prix TT and the state TT.  With those practices, Tuesday Worlds (weekly group rides with lots of intensity), and long endurance rides like brevets, I feel like I get a good mix of training that helps me in all of my rides and races.

My husband Robert is wonderfully supportive of all of my riding, training, and racing, serving as coach and soigneur.  He makes suggestions for my TT training, generally increasing the length and intensity of intervals as a race approaches and tapering the week right before.

The Course

The course on Saturday was beautiful and very well suited for a TT.  Several days before the race, I checked out the route on the street view of Google Maps.  I discerned that there were some rollers (not even big as the ones I typically ride on) but no significant climbs.  Actually, I wouldn’t have minded some bigger hills because I climb well, but regardless I was glad to know what kind of terrain to expect.  It was 36 km (22.4 miles) long, which is a fairly long TT.  That boded well because I tend to perform better on longer courses.

One of the best aspects of the course was that the turnaround point was at the driveway to a business complex (pretty much deserted since it was Saturday).  This allowed for a nice, wide turning radius; turning on my TT bicycle is not my forte, and I’m always concerned about losing time at the turnaround.

The course was easy for Dingo Race Productions to control.  Because it was out and back, they really only needed volunteers and police at the start/finish area and at the turnaround.  On the way back in, I saw a large truck approaching from the left at an intersection.  In my race-induced stupor, I wasn't totally aware of what type of truck it was, but I think it was carrying chickens.  That makes sense because we were in a rural area near the poultry capital of Georgia (Gainesville).  Anyway, the truck pulled in behind me, following along at a safe distance for a half mile or so before it turned off.  The driver seemed very aware of all of the racers on both sides of the roads and was quite patient.  I am so grateful for his consideration.

I Have the Power

I’ve just started using a power meter during races.  I got a Stages power meter, which is in one of my crank arms.  I transfer it (or more accurately, my soigneur Robert transfers it) between my road bike and my TT bike.  I used to have a PowerTap, a power meter in my wheel hub.  I could transfer the wheel between my bikes, which was fine just for training, but I didn’t want the weight of the PowerTap while racing.  Therefore, I previously relied on heart rate during races.

Robert gave me some good advice about racing with my power meter.  He said to use it primarily as blow-up prevention; for example, if I were averaging 230 W after 10 minutes, I needed to back off.  I intended to keep my average around 210 W for the first half of the race and go harder the second half.  This was somewhat of a guess because I’m new to racing with a power meter.  Also, a race situation inevitably revs up your adrenaline, helping you put out higher power than in practice (unless you’re an alien and can train as hard as you race, which is not the case for most people).  About ¼ into the race, I was averaging about 220 W and feeling very good.  Still, I knew I needed to rein it in a tad.

The second half was definitely harder than the first.  My mouth was constantly open in its fly-catching mode as I gulped in as much air as possible.  A few times I felt kind of barfy.  (That means I was doing it right.)  My average power had eased down to 215 W, and I was determined to keep it there for the remainder of the race.  I did it, but it took all I had.  I knew that the course would take me right around an hour; in fact, I was thrilled to finish it in just under an hour, at 59:56.  I held 215 W, which by definition means that that’s my threshold power (what I can hold for an hour).

Race Variables

TTs are different from mass-start races because it’s just you against the clock.  There’s no drafting, no team tactics, or other similar dynamics that affect your performance.  If you’ve trained, you pretty much know what you can do.  Even so, I often feel barfy before a race due to nerves, which is different from feeling barfy during a race due to all-out effort (see previous paragraph).  Yes, this really is fun!  I think.

One thing that can help during a TT is having a carrot, i.e., seeing someone in front of you that you try to catch.  The carrot effect was not as pronounced during the state TT because the racers started at one-minute intervals rather than the more typical 30-second intervals.  Still, I did have a couple of carrots, passing the two people who started before me.  I knew I had a good shot at being on the podium – maybe.

The big question was who exactly my competition was.  In previous years, state champions have been awarded in each category, Cat 1 through 4 for women.  However, the Georgia Bicycle Racing Association (GBRA) had talked of combining the women into two categories for state championships: A (Cat 1 and Cat 2) and B (Cat 3 and Cat 4).  This was intended as a cost saving measure because GBRA would have to purchase fewer state championship jerseys.  On the other hand, a few days before the race I received other information indicating that GBRA would be recognizing state champions in every category after all.

There were four Cat 4 women in the race and three Cat 3 women.  In the lineup, I started fourth in the Cat 4’s with the three Cat 3’s behind me.  So, having passed the two Cat 4’s in front of me, I knew that I would be on the podium – at least 2nd place – if it were just Cat 4’s in my competition.  None of the Cat 3’s behind me passed me, but that was no indication of how I would do in a combined Cat 3/Cat 4 competition.  All I could do was wait for the results…


Separate awards were, in fact, awarded for Cat 3’s and Cat 4’s.  I came in 1st for the Cat 4’s!  State champion!  Woo hoo!  (By the way, I would have come in 3rd in a combined Cat 3/Cat 4 field).  All that training paid off.  It really does feel good to set a goal, work hard, and achieve it.

The 3rd place women's Cat 4 finisher left before podiums were announced.

If you win a state championship jersey, you get to wear it over the next year until the next state championship.  However, you only get to wear it during that type of race event; i.e., the road race champ gets to wear the state jersey in road races over the next year, and the crit champ gets to wear the state jersey in crits over the next year.  The funny thing about the state TT jersey is that you never get to wear it because serious time trialists wear tight-fitting, aerodynamic skin suits instead of jerseys.  My team, sponsored by the Georgia Neurosurgical Institute, bought me a state TT championship skin suit after I won the state TT last year.  I have to admit that in addition to being happy about winning this year’s Cat 4 state TT, I’m really just as glad that my team doesn’t have to spend the money to buy me a new (non-championship) skin suit.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Acworth 200K Brevet

What a great brevet today!  What a great day all around!  Kevin, Wendy, and Jeff did a terrific job with the logistics to ensure an excellent ride.  A group of about ten of us did pretty much the whole thing together.  Such good companionship really does make for an even better ride.

I had no idea that the roads would be so picturesque.  I’ll bet that many of them used to be dirt roads that were paved at some point; no county planning & zoning commission these days would allow many of the twisty, turny roads that we encountered.  The beautiful weather was the icing on the cake.

I enjoyed the unique features of this ride.  The water at Cave Spring was delicious and refreshing.

Also, it was interesting to see the Etowah Mounds even if only from a distance.  I’d like to go back for an actual visit sometime.  I’ve been to the Ocmulgee Mounds in Macon, quite a fascinating place.  Both sets of mounds were built by Native Americans of the Mississippian culture.  By the way, if you want to visit the Ocmulgee Mounds, a particularly good time to go is during the Macon Cherry Blossom Festival, held around the first week of spring.  Ranger-led lantern light tours are conducted at night during the festival.

On most of my recent brevets, I’ve packed a sandwich to get a little protein.  Today I mixed it up and packed a can of sardines.  I brought the ones in mustard sauce; even I thought it might be a little extreme to eat the ones in Louisiana hot sauce during a ride.  Ian said it looked like I had fishing weights in my jersey pocket.  It’s kind of fun to carry sardines on a ride because they freak some people out, but if you like them, they really are good bike food.  Besides, you get to use some duct tape to attach your plastic fork.  (I’m not pro enough to eat them with my fingers.)

Julie had told me that it was a fast brevet, and she wasn’t kidding!  I suppose that’s because the route seemed relatively flat.  Even so, Jeff pointed out afterwards that, surprisingly, we had about 6,000 feet of climbing.

After the ride, I took Kevin’s advice to go to Henry’s.  Now Kevin, you didn’t mention that Henry’s is a Cajun restaurant!  I love Cajun food!  If I hadn’t checked it out on Google, I might not have made the effort to go there.  Boy, was it great!  Po’ boy, that is – with crawfish.

That possibly was the best post-ride meal I ever had.  I told my husband about it, and I’m going to make a point to take him there next time we’re traveling up I-75.  I’m also inspired to start cooking more Cajun food.  I plan a week’s worth of menus and go grocery shopping once a week.  We have something Italian every week and Mexican or Asian meals almost as often.  We need to start having Cajun at least that frequently.

See you all on the road!

Betty Jean

P.S. Acworth is Bill the Cat’s favorite city.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Umami Ride

When I was in first grade, I learned four types of tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.  This made sense to me as I had experienced all of them.  In recent years, I have read of a fifth taste called umami.  It's supposed to be kind of a full, savory flavor.  Two foods that are described as having a high level of umami are mushrooms and soy sauce.  I have to admit that I don't quite get it.  Sure, mushrooms have a rather distinctive earthy taste, but what's this umami?  And to me, soy sauce is primarily salty.

August is a unique time of year to ride.  It's definitely still summer, but there's an edge of maturity to it.  Although day is still longer than night, the hours of daylight have been decreasing since the summer solstice in June.  The angle of sunlight is increasingly obtuse as I ride in the late afternoon/early evening when I get off work.  The air is pleasantly warm - enough to keep my muscles moving easily but with a cool freshness as I pedal along.

The leaves on all the trees and bushes are deep green, well past the fresh, spring green of several months ago.  Kudzu blooms this time of year.  I always smell it before I see it.  Then, there they are among the lush, thick leaves and vines: long, purple clusters of flowers with a faintly grape aroma.

Crickets chirping in the background seem to have a mellower call than earlier in the summer.  At the same time, they sound different than in the fall, especially that particular sound they have around Halloween before they die out for the winter.  I guess that's because you really can approximate the air temperature from the rate of crickets chirping.  According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, count the number of cricket chirps in 14 seconds and add 40 to get temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.

Dragonflies drone above the grasses.  Miscellaneous, unidentified, tiny insects are illuminated in the long shafts of sunlight.  Wild turkeys dart away as I approach on my bicycle, sometimes taking flight into the trees along the side of the road.  A deer stands in the road ahead, watching me until a car approaching from the opposite direction sends it scurrying into the woods.

I may not understand umami as a taste, but I know what an umami ride is.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Middle Georgia Author Ride

Besides cycling, one of my favorite things to do is read.  Yesterday I combined these two passions in a Middle Georgia Author Ride.  Middle Georgia seems to be fertile ground for excellent writers to grow.  My ride highlighted three of them: Joel Chandler Harris, Alice Walker, and Flannery O’Connor.

When I first mapped my route, it had around 90 miles.  So, I went ahead and added a few extra miles to make it a full century (100 miles).  I anticipated riding solo, but I was thrilled when my husband Robert agreed to join me.  He’s such a good sport.

The best way to begin a Saturday of cycling is to ride to the Monticello square.  I bought some fresh vegetables at our local farmers market: okra, bell peppers, and squash.  Then, Robert and I fueled up for our ride at the Vanilla Bean:

Coffee, quiche, and fruit for Robert; tea and cookie for me (I had already had breakfast at home)
At last we began our journey in earnest.

Joel Chandler Harris

Our first focus was on the tales of Uncle Remus, recorded by Joel Chandler Harris.  Harris grew up on a plantation in Putnam County, where he heard slaves tell about the adventures of Brer Rabbit and the other critters.

As Robert and I rode into Eatonton, I made sure to stop at the courthouse to visit Brer Rabbit:

From there, we headed toward the Uncle Remus Museum.  On the way, I was excited to see the upcoming plans for the Georgia Writer’s Museum:

Just a few short blocks away, we arrived at the Uncle Remus Museum:

The volunteer working at the Uncle Remus Museum yesterday was a delightful woman named Georgia.  She was simply full of information about Joel Chandler Harris, the Uncle Remus stories, and life in general both before and after the Civil War.  She shared with Robert and me a number of stories from her grandmother, who learned much from her own grandmother, who was a slave.

Georgia explained that the Uncle Remus characters are not “animals.”  They are “critters.”  Maybe it should be obvious, but I learned that the critters are symbols; Brer Rabbit represents the slaves, and Brer Fox represents the plantation owner.  In the seemingly innocuous tales of Brer Rabbit outwitting Brer Fox, the slaves who handed down the stories were actually sustaining hope that they would overcome.

A few days before our Middle Georgia Author Ride, I re-read the Uncle Remus story of the Tar Baby.  Georgia specifically talked to us about the Tar Baby, saying that her grandmother had told her not to be one.  Georgia asked her grandmother what she meant.  Her grandmother said that the Tar Baby represents black people who sit on the fence, not committing one way or the other.  That made a lot of sense to me because I was a little unsettled by the ending of the Tar Baby story; Uncle Remus leaves you hanging, not knowing whether Brer Rabbit gets free or not.

Georgia would have kept talking to us all day long, and I would have been glad to keep listening if I didn’t have other authors to explore on our journey.  Georgia gave us a terrific segue to Alice Walker, our next author.  When Robert and I mentioned that we were on our way to her birthplace, she said that she knew Alice Walker, who was a few years behind Georgia in school.  Georgia said that she and her friends had only two things on their mind: boys and orange lipstick.  She said that they would pool their funds and share an orange lipstick, laughing that they all looked like Bozo the clown.  The young Alice, however, was very studious and smart, writing poetry and pretty much shunning the more adolescent pursuits of her peers.

Alice Walker

As we pedaled toward Alice Walker’s birthplace, we passed this street named for her:

This must be my year for riding on roads where bridges are out.  Robert and I saw the detour sign for one of the roads on our route, but we figured we could get through easily enough on our bicycles.  We should have paid attention to the sign.

Expect adventure

I got some ambiguous information on-line as I was planning this Middle Georgia Author Ride.  I thought Alice Walker’s birthplace was part of a property that includes a restored farm, general store, and events venue, but they must be two different locations.  The address I found on the Internet did take us to her birthplace, but there’s nothing there except a sign.  What a shame that it's so faded that it’s barely readable:

By the way, it was a strange juxtaposition to see the fancy, gated community immediately adjacent to this.

Earlier this summer I read Alice Walker’s most famous work, The Color Purple.  I’ve been aware of it, however, since high school.  In 10th grade my English class was to read Lord of the Flies.  That was the only time my mother objected to any book I was assigned in school.  She thought Lord of the Flies was too violent.  Mrs. Phillips, my English teacher, obligingly agreed to let me read an alternate book.  My mother suggested The Color Purple.  Mrs. Phillips was rather flummoxed, wondering why my mother preferred that I be exposed to the violence in The Color Purple.  I actually wound up reading The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.  I’m so glad that Mrs. Phillips introduced me to Ray Bradbury because he’s been one of my favorite authors ever since.  But I’m also glad that I finally read The Color Purple.  By the way, my current to-read list includes Lord of the Flies - a little delayed teenage rebellion (heh heh).

The thing that resonated the most with me in The Color Purple was Alice Walker’s description of how she experiences God.  God is real.  But God is not the old, white man in a robe that too often comes across in church.  I experience God more as Alice Walker and her character Celie do: in flowers, wind, water, or a big rock.  My favorite chapter is the one that gives the book its title.  In this scene, Celie is seeing God in a whole new way thanks to her friend Shug:

Naw, she say.  God made it.  Listen, God love everything you love – and a mess of stuff you don’t.  But more than anything else, God love admiration.

You saying God vain? I ast.

Naw, she say.  Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing.  I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.

What it do when it pissed off? I ast.

Oh, it make something else.  People think pleasing God is all God care about.  But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.

Yeah?  I say.

Yeah, she say.  It always making little surprises and springing them on us when us least expect.

You mean it want to be loved, just like the bible say.

Yes, Celie, she say.  Everything want to be loved.  Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved.  You ever notice that trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk?

From there, Robert and I headed toward Milledgeville.  Before we left Putnam County, though, we saw yet another tribute to Uncle Remus:

Only a few roads provide access across Lake Sinclair to Milledgeville.  I opted for Hwy 441.  Even though it’s a major, busy thoroughfare, I thought that it would be OK because it has two lanes in both directions.  We made it, but it was less than optimal.  Robert made me promise never to ride my bicycle that way again.

It was definitely time for lunch.  We went to Metropolis Café, where we had some delicious Greek food: a gyro with a Greek salad for Robert and falafel with a Greek salad for me.  I knew of Metropolis Café because they catered one of the rest stops at the April Fool’s ride in Milledgeville several months ago.

Flannery O’Connor

We had to go back to Hwy 441 and travel a little farther on it to get to Andalusia.  Andalusia was Flannery O’Connor’s home during the last years of her life.

The house is a short distance from the highway, hidden by trees.  Both the inside and outside look just as they did during the 1940’s and 1950’s.  It’s easy to imagine the importance that sense of place played in Flannery O’Connor’s writings.

Flannery O’Connor kept a number of peafowl, which is the generic term including both male peacocks and female peahens.  Several peafowl are kept today at Andalusia:

I learned that not only was Flannery O’Connor a writer but also an artist.  In her tribute, students at nearby Georgia College, which is also Flannery O’Connor’s alma mater, have created a number of pieces of art, displayed in a back corner of the house.  I especially liked this wall art that is evocative of peacocks:

I’m pretty sure that in high school I read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” which is probably Flannery O’Connor’s most well-known short story.  I re-read this story shortly before my Middle Georgia Author Ride.  What a perfect example of Southern Gothic literature: characters that are slightly (or greatly) “off,” violence, and a definite sense of locale.  As I’ve been reading Flannery O’Connor’s short stories this summer, what has really grabbed me is the grace that shines through, even in disturbing or even macabre circumstances.

“She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

It was time to head home.  We had a straight shot back from Milledgeville to Monticello on Hwy 212.   I was grateful to draft Robert.  Even though I’ve been doing centuries (or longer) every month for over a year and a half, I was more tired than usual on the way back.  Ironically, I think it made me more tired to stop so many times during yesterday’s ride.  It was well worth it, though.

The South has a difficult history, full of slavery, racism, and poverty.  Joel Chandler Harris, Alice Walker, and Flannery O’Connor have shown that that’s not the whole story, however.  Whether it’s telling of the underdog prevailing, asserting the possibility of a conscious connection to All That Is, or showing improbable redemption, these authors offer hope to all of us.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

FDR Little White House 200K Permanent

Note: I'm working toward an award offered by Randonneurs USA (RUSA), the R-12.  This entails riding an event at least 200 km in distance each month for 12 consecutive months.  I began last December, and so I anticipate completing this challenge in November.  Most of my events thus far have been brevets.  However, there was not a brevet offered in Georgia in July; what to do?  No problem - I simply rode a 200K permanent.  A permanent is very similar to a brevet.  The time limits are the same for both, and both have designated controls (checkpoints) along the way.  Each permanent route has an organizer.  You coordinate with the organizer to select a starting date and time.  The organizer sends you a route card and cue sheet.  Then, you simply complete the ride on the agreed upon date within the prescribed time limit.  I rode the FDR Little White House 200K permanent in July.  Also, I was fortunate to have a couple of rando buddies join me.

I had a blast on today’s FDR Little White House 200K permanent!  Also, I was thrilled that David Bolocan and Robert Newcomer joined me.  However, I’m not sure “blast” is how they would describe it.  The heat did get pretty intense later in the day.  I kind of like the heat, though, probably because I’m a native Georgian and possibly part lizard.

As I drove from Monticello to Griffin for the start of the ride, I had a beautiful view of the full moon setting.  Coincidentally, I was also listening to “Man on the Moon” by REM – magic.  It was a good portent of the day to come.

David, Robert, and I headed out from the Ingle’s in Griffin.  It was foggy and a comfortable temperature in the 70's.  The first excitement of the day occurred a few miles outside of Yatesville when I ran over something and got a flat tire (rear, of course).  My marginal tire changing skills seemed to amuse David and Robert.  Changing a tube is one of those Catch-22 situations; you have to practice the skill, but you hope not to have the opportunity to do so.  My husband has actually drilled me at home on changing tubes, but it’s still not something I’ve done lots of times.  Although I’m sure I could have completed today’s changing job by myself, I certainly appreciated David and Robert’s help, which allowed us to get back on the road sooner.  Besides, it gave them something to tease me about the rest of the day.

I’ve ridden on Highway 190 over the Pine Mountain ridge several times before, usually stopping at one of the lovely viewing locations along the way.  As we rode this highway today, I was a little regretful that we didn’t stop to look at the valley below.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the FDR State Park office, which I had not been to before, also has a great view.  This control turned out to be the highlight of my day for a couple of other reasons as well.

We had sort-of lunch at this control.  I understand that Ian had a nice lunch spread at the FDR Little White House 200K brevet back in February.  (Sorry I missed that one!)  Since we didn’t have that option today, we relied on the vending machines and other snacks available at the park office.  FYI – they have Ben & Jerry’s ice cream!  I might have planned accordingly if I had known, but at the time I wasn’t hungry enough for a pint.  Instead, I got a box of crickets.  How could I pass up that opportunity?  They came in several flavors, including bacon & cheese and sour cream & onion.  I got the salt & vinegar ones.  They were pretty good, tasting kind of like a cross between potato chips and popcorn.  The crickets plus a Coke made a tasty lunch along with the besquished turkey and cheese sandwich that had been in my jersey pocket for the previous five hours.  I had bought a Snickers at the first control, which had liquefied by lunchtime.  It was still goo-ily edible, and I intended to eat it then, but I was too full after the other stuff and, therefore, saved it for later.

Lunch o' champions
Back of the cricket box
The guys and I sat in Adirondack chairs overlooking the valley.  It was quite an enjoyable respite.  There were a bunch of hula hoops gathered at one corner of the adjoining grassy area.  They were just the thing to entice four cute little kids who showed up.  After watching them for a while, I couldn’t stand it anymore – I just had to join them.  I don’t know why my rhythm was so much better today than it ever was when I was a kid; I was able to keep my hula hoop going pretty well!  I would have continued for a good bit longer if the Coke in my stomach weren’t getting sloshed around so much.  Before I stopped, three women who were with the children (mothers, I assume) gave it a whirl, too.  Maybe my hooping attempts gave them the nudge they needed to try.  Bicycling, hula hooping, etc.: why do we adults ever quit doing the stuff that was fun when we were kids?

By the way, here’s today’s fun fact: Pine Mountain is the southernmost mountain in the Eastern U.S.

Daniel McKinley regularly rides some of the roads on today’s route, and he kindly gave me a heads up about a bridge that was out around mile 116.  Ian offered the option of a detour, but David, Robert, and I opted for the challenge.  And that it was.  We had to wade through a creek and climb a steep, muddy embankment.  Woo hoo!  Cyclocross!

Hey, I thought this was a road ride!
I felt good at the end of the ride.  Walking through the Ingle’s parking lot made me feel even better; I found a $10 bill!  It was right next to a particular car, and so I had customer service page the car’s owner.  The car belonged to an Ingle’s employee, who was relieved to know that nothing was wrong with it.  The money didn’t belong to her, however.  So, I kept it.  Afterwards, I went to the restroom and saw that mascara was streaked all down my face from sweat. The Ingle's employee must have thought I looked pretty pitiful and needed the money worse than she did.

Thank you, Ian, for setting up the ride, and thank you, David and Robert, for riding with me!  Today was an excellent example of my life motto: Expect Adventure.

Betty Jean

P.S. I’m sure you all know that chocolate milk is a wondrous recovery drink.  I recently discovered the recipe below, which is essentially glorified chocolate milk.  It was mighty tasty when I got home today.   Oh, and it’s definitely two servings – enough to share with your sweetie!

Double Chocolate Chip Frappe

1 cup milk
2 T sugar
1/3 cup chocolate chips
3 T chocolate syrup
2 C ice
1/8 tsp. vanilla

Blend and enjoy!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Solstice 300K

Note: This is my ride report from the Solstice 300K brevet, which covered the entire length of the Silver Comet Trail in Georgia and the Chief Ladiga Trail in Alabama.  We started in Cedartown, GA, went east to the end of the Silver Comet in Smyrna, GA, turned around and went west to the end of the Chief Ladiga Trail in Anniston, AL, and then headed back to Cedartown.

I can’t think of a better way to spend the first day of summer than doing the Solstice 300K.  Thank you Kevin for making it possible!

This is my favorite time of year.  I love the long hours of daylight, being warm, and seeing everything green.  What a treat to get to be out in all this beauty all day long.  I especially enjoyed the creatures along the route.  The cows helped us greet the day as they stood by the fence along the hill approaching the landfill.  Also, I loved all the rabbits we saw.  It occurred to me that a great thing about the Silver Comet/Chief Ladiga Trail is that there’s no road kill because there are no motorized vehicles.

One of the most challenging parts of the ride was maneuvering around the other people using the trail toward the east end.  Really, I felt more nervous there than riding typical roads with traffic.  But it was good mental exercise to keep concentrating.  There was one fairly narrow bridge covered in kudzu vines.  We got as far right as possible because of other people going in the opposite direction.  As the tendrils of kudzu reached out and wrapped themselves around our arms, I was reminded of the trees in the haunted forest in The Wizard of Oz.

Brian Burke and Daniel were my main companions during the ride, and they were terrific ones.  I simply don’t have as much power on the mostly flat terrain we encountered, and I appreciated being able to draft them.  In fact, I’m convinced that Daniel has a secret buttocks motor.

The one real downside to the day was that a few miles into Alabama, Brian went down on one of those pieces of metal remaining at an intersection where a post had been removed.  He landed on his elbow, getting some nasty looking road rash.  Also, he thinks he cracked a rib.  Both of his tires flatted, but between Daniel, Wayne (who rode up behind us shortly after the crash), and me, we had enough equipment to get Brian going again.  I’m so thankful he was able to keep riding.  Brian, I hope you’re back 100% very soon!

Our foursome continued on the Chief Ladiga Trail, and that’s when the rain hit us.  We contemplated taking shelter – several lightning strikes got pretty close – but there wasn’t really anywhere to go.  Fortunately, we made it through.  I was surprised that the storm lasted as long as it did, about 30 miles.  At least it washed a lot of the grime off of us from the cyclocross tunnel we had ridden through twice toward the east end.  (You know which one I’m talking about!)

We all were glad for the stop at the Sonic on the west end; it was a super Sonic!  That coconut cream pie shake really hit the spot.  Sometimes I treat myself to a Dairy Queen Blizzard after a long ride, but I’m glad to now know that Sonic is an excellent alternative.

As we refueled at Sonic, Wayne told us that riding with us was the longest that he had ever ridden with anyone else on a brevet.  I felt honored!  He did a great job pulling the train for a little while as we headed back east.  Brian dropped back pretty soon after we got back on the road; I’m sure he wasn’t feeling too great.  Wayne dropped back, too, after a while.  Maybe he went to check on Brian.  I continued with Daniel the moto-machine, and we kept up a good, steady effort to the end.  I was feeling noticeably tired and sore for about the last 10 miles, but I knew I’d make it.

Before I started home, I went to Zorba’s, an Italian and Greek restaurant in Cedartown.  I had a particularly good Greek salad – large chunks of feta cheese, pepperoncini, and cherry peppers.  My entrée was a delicious concoction of spaghetti, Italian sausage, bell peppers, mushrooms, and onions baked with cheese on top.  It was monstrous, however.  The rule is to never eat anything bigger than your head, even after riding a 300K.  So, I brought half of it home for lunch today.

Thank you again to everyone for making it such a memorable day.  I’m already looking forward to my next brevet!

Betty Jean

Me, Daniel, and Brian at the state line (transition from the Silver Comet to the Chief Ladiga Trail)