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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jimmy Carter 300K Permanent

Wow – what a ride!  On Saturday I did the Jimmy Carter 300K permanent and reached my goal of earning the R-12 Award from Randonneurs USA (RUSA).  The R-12 Award requires completing a 200K or longer RUSA event in each of 12 consecutive months.  I started in December 2013 and did a 200K (approximately 124 miles) or 300K (approximately 186 miles) ride each month.  Most of them were brevets, but I also did a few permanents.  These two types of events are similar, having time limits (13½ hours for a 200K and 20 hours for a 300K) and controls (checkpoints) that must be visited during designated windows of time.  Brevets are organized events that are scheduled for a particular date and generally draw a number of riders.  Permanents, however, are managed by individual route owners and can be ridden any time.  A rider contacts the permanent owner to set a start date and time.  Other riders certainly can come along on a permanent, too.

Initially, I thought I would ride a brevet this month to complete my R-12 requirements, but a permanent turned out to work better with my schedule.  As if a 200K weren’t long enough, I wound up going with a 300K.  Actually, I was kind of glad for the extra challenge.  For one thing, this was a brand new route that Daniel McKinley just got approved, and it was fun to join him on the inaugural ride!  But this strenuous ride was also particularly meaningful to me because it was the culmination of an amazing series of events following one of the most traumatic experiences of my life.

In April 2012 I had a serious, unavoidable crash in a cycling road race.  I broke my upper jaw, messed up my front upper teeth, and got a huge gash in my chin.  It was a long, difficult recovery, but thanks to excellent doctors and love and prayers from many friends, I finally was feeling, functioning, and looking well again.  I really didn’t think it was possible.  I was – and continue to be – so thankful for my recovery.

Although I no longer had the desire to do mass-start races, I wanted to keep challenging myself on the bike.  I came up with a plan: I would ride one century a month throughout 2013.  Then, I had an even better idea; I would ride on behalf of 12 different charities.  In this way, I could ride for something bigger than just myself.  I called my project A Year of Centuries (www.ayearofcenturies.blogspot.com).  It became a profound way for me to express my gratitude for my recovery.

During my June century, I met a cyclist named David Bolocan.  He told me about randonneuring and RUSA.  It sounded interesting, but I just mentally filed it because at the time I was so focused on A Year of Centuries.  Several months later I was trying to plan my December century.  I preferred an organized ride if possible, but I was having trouble finding one because there aren’t many during the cold months.  Finally, an on-line search led me to the Silk Sheets 200K brevet, hosted by the Audax Atlanta chapter of RUSA.  Perfect!  It would be a grand finale for A Year of Centuries – a little over 100 miles! – and serve as a bridge to a whole new world of cycling.

I joined RUSA, and from the members’ handbook I learned about the R-12 Award.  Of course I couldn’t pass up another challenge!  So, that’s how I got to Saturday’s ride.  Interestingly, Saturday also marked two years to the day since my final dental work following my bicycle crash.  What better way to celebrate than with a ride of gratitude and triumph!

Cray Cray
The starting point for Saturday’s ride was at Waffle House in Thomaston, GA.  I got there about 6:30 A.M. to have plenty of time to get set up before the 7:00 A.M. start.  Was it cold!  30 degrees, to be exact.  As I gathered my gear and went over my checklist in the subfreezing dark, I fleetingly questioned my sanity.  I did my best Patsy Cline, singing “Crazy.”  Shortly thereafter, Daniel showed up on his bicycle, having ridden the few miles from his house.  The first thing he said to me was, “We must be crazy!”  (Insert maniacal laugh)

Antiquing Bag
When it comes to randonneuring, I’m rather a minimalist, at least compared to my fellow riders.  Whereas they typically ride heavier duty, often customized (and cool!) bikes designed more specifically for randonneuring, I ride my regular road bike, a Marin Stelvio, which is lightweight and made for racing (or trying to keep up with the guys at Tuesday Worlds and Peach Peloton!).  Our respective approaches translate to how we carry our stuff, too.  Other randonneurs tend to have more and bigger bags.  In contrast, on 200Ks I put my brevet/permanent card, food, etc. in my jersey pockets.  On 300Ks, however, I do use a bag on a rack that attaches to my seat post.  My husband Robert has been jury-rigging it together, using electrical tape or aluminum foil to fill in the slight gap between the rack’s clamp and my seat post.  Because this isn’t a good long-term solution, I finally came up with a permanent fix this past week in preparation for yesterday’s ride.  I got a shim from the bike shop, and it works perfectly with a lot less hassle.

Robert reminded me of how we even came to have this bag on the rack.  Some years ago, when he started doing Peach Peloton (and before I joined in), it was a smaller group of guys, maybe half a dozen.  These were some of the best, toughest cyclists in Middle Georgia.  One Saturday morning they had a ride starting from the east side of Macon.  Because it was wintertime, Robert had extra clothing that he planned to shed as the day got warmer.  He assumed that the logical way to deal with this was to have some kind of carrier bag large enough to store things.  Unfortunately, this was not the “cool” thing to do.  When the other guys saw the bag, they teased him and asked him if he was going antiquing.  I, for one, am glad that Robert bought the antiquing bag because it’s ideal – and pretty much essential – for my longer brevets and permanents.

Tour de Talbotton
The first control on Saturday’s permanent was at a convenience store in Talbotton.  When Daniel and I got back on the road, almost immediately we came to a railroad crossing where a train was stopped.  We couldn’t see the end in either direction, and it looked like the train wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon:

Neither of us had encountered a completely blocked railroad crossing before on a ride.  We decided to go around it.  Using the maps on our phones, we found a road that looped around and connected to our intended route.  The only problem was, the train was blocking that crossing, too.  So, we located yet another road that would put us back on track.  This one worked!  It was actually quite a pretty road.  One section was particularly picturesque, with a white rail fence running parallel to the road, offsetting the colorful trees and bright blue sky.  We crossed an old fashioned wooden bridge over some more railroad tracks.  It seemed like an ideal detour – until the pavement ran out.  Fortunately, the dirt part wasn’t too bad.  It lasted a mile or so.  My cyclocross experience on Frankenbike made me feel much more comfortable on this section that I would have otherwise.  I was thankful that Daniel and I both made it through without flatting.

Surely You Jest (and Don’t Call me Shirley)
I love to laugh, and finding humor along the way certainly makes a long ride more enjoyable.  Daniel and I shot the breeze a good bit, at least earlier in the ride before we got too tired.  He commented that he never has taken the plunge to shave his legs.  I replied that that’s really more of a racing thing for guys.  However, I hang around cyclists so much that when I see a guy with hairy legs, it seems odd.  I joked that I won’t worry about Robert shaving his legs unless he starts borrowing my lingerie.  Daniel observed that that would be more aerodynamic.  Good point, which I hadn’t thought of.

We turned onto one road that had a rather puzzling surface.  It wasn’t quite as smooth as asphalt, yet it wasn’t quite as rough as chip seal.  Daniel suggested that it was chipsalt.  I thought a more appropriate name might be ass-seal.

My favorite laugh of the day, however, came from a sign that we passed on Highway 137 between Tazewell and Buena Vista.  My goal was not to have this at the end of the day’s ride:

Georgia History
The route went through some places especially significant in Georgia history.  Jimmy Carter, our 39th President and namesake of our ride, grew up in Sumter County.  We rode through the Plains Historic District, which includes his presidential campaign headquarters.  Then, after another 23 miles, we had a control in Andersonville.  Camp Sumter at Andersonville was one of the largest Confederate prisons during the Civil War.  Today it’s a memorial to all prisoners of war throughout America’s history.  Although I’ve visited Plains and Andersonville in the past, I’d like to go back again when I can linger.

I did take the time for this cheesy photo opp in downtown Andersonville:

One of my rules in life is never to pass by any photo opp thing where you stick your face in.

The photo opp was right next to the museum and a good little restaurant.  Daniel and I both were in need of refreshment.  He got a giant dill pickle, some pickle juice (good for preventing/easing cramping), and a brownie.  I warmed up with some hot chocolate and ate some of my bike food (a couple of hard boiled eggs for protein and some trail mix).  It’s not magic, but it’s amazing how some calories will really get you going again on a long ride.

Most of the areas we rode through were agricultural.  Farming practices always intrigue me.  I’ve seen a good bit of cotton that was ready to be harvested, but I had never seen it after the fact.  I didn’t know that it’s baled into rolls similar to hay:

The shadows were lengthening, and I knew that we didn’t have a whole lot of daylight left.  The afternoon light was particularly spectacular as it shone on the peach trees in their fall finery:

Equipment Lessons
As we climbed the hills in the final miles, I started pulling ahead of Daniel, who is bigger than I am and was riding a much heavier bike.  He encouraged me to go on.  It was dark by then.  I thought I had gotten a good bit ahead of Daniel because I didn’t see his lights anywhere behind me.  I turned onto Allen Road, where we were to ride to Auchumpkee Covered Bridge for an information control.  (This same information control is on the West Georgia Fall Line 200K permanent that I did last month.)  I immediately pulled to the side of the road for a much needed nature break, not even looking for brush to hide in since it was a deserted, pitch black road.  I was just getting back on my bike when, lo and behold, here comes Daniel!  We met up at the bridge, which was about another mile down the road.

When I got to the bridge, I couldn’t unclip my left shoe from my pedal!  No matter how much I twisted, it wouldn’t come out.  I finally had to leave my shoe clipped in and take my foot out.  Later at home, I discovered that two of the three bolts in my cleat had come out, which made it impossible for me to twist out.  My right shoe was missing a bolt, too!  Fortunately, a few new bolts fixed the problem.  In the future, I’ll pay more attention and keep them tightened.

On 300K or longer RUSA events, which always involve some night riding, participants must have a white front light; a red, solid (not flashing) rear light; a reflective vest; and reflective ankle bands.  I use battery-powered lights, and because the days are so short this time of year, I anticipated needing two sets of lights on Saturday.  I predicted correctly.  With only one mile to go (ack!), my front light went out.  I stopped to put on my second front light and realized that my rear light had gone out, too.  Uh, oh.  I should have noticed that sooner.  Later at the finish, Daniel told me that he had noticed that my rear light was out as I pulled away from him for the last time.  He just couldn’t catch up to tell me.  So, on future rides I definitely will be aware of my rear light status.  Even with all of the riding I’ve done over the years, I’m still learning!

Keep on Rolling
I had started the day with a song, and I ended the day with one, too.  Sometimes when I’m riding hard – whether it’s with intensity during a time trial or just a long, grueling permanent – a song gets stuck in my head, usually a particular line.  Actually, it’s very helpful, like a mantra to keep me focused.  For about the last 10 miles on Saturday, I stayed motivated by the song running through my head, REO Speedwagon’s “Roll with the Changes”: Keep on rolling!  Keep on rolling!  Ooo!  Ooo! Ooo!

And I did!

At the finish - 13 hours and 55 minutes after I started
With All Your Strength
Saturday was only my third 300K, and I think I had forgotten how much more challenging it is than a 200K.  I’ve gotten to where I can knock out a 200K relatively easily, but a 300K really does wear me out.  As I rode the last stretch through downtown Thomaston, I passed a friendly man who greeted me with, “How are you?”  Chuckling, I replied, “Tired!”

This kind of endurance cycling is so different than the other types of cycling I do.  It’s very low intensity, but you have to keep it up – for a LONG time.  During the ride it’s often more mental than physical, but afterwards there’s no denying the physical aspect.  It’s hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it.  Even other endurance athletes who don’t do ultra distances don’t always get it.  A couple of weeks ago after the Fried Green 50 (see my post on 11/2/14), I was telling a friend about being so tired that I fell asleep as Robert drove us home.  In fact, I was so exhausted that I slept in the car in the garage for another hour!  My friend, who runs distances as long as marathons, asked me in kind yet misguided concern, “Do you think you’re coming down with something?”

The tiredness I feel after a 300K is different even from this.  It’s not muscle ache; it’s a deep-seated fatigue that radiates from my core and feels like it’s reaching out into my limbs.  Usually, it lasts for about a day.  I was particularly aware of it during church yesterday morning.  Although I didn’t feel like I might fall asleep, I found myself focusing on this fatigue that permeated my body, seeming to envelop my entire being.  It was actually rather pleasant.  Then, it became almost holy to me.

I don’t have answers to life’s big questions.  I’m not always sure if I’m on the right path, but I give and take the best that I can.  I do know that we are meant to enjoy God and all of God’s good creation.  Truth and love are the common denominator.  We love because God first loved us.  I often ponder the greatest commandment, which is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.  (You can’t separate this from the second greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself, because that’s the most concrete way to love God.)  Loving God with my heart and mind pretty much makes sense.  The soul part of loving God is kind of mystifying, but I think it has to do with the eternal aspect of our beings.  Then there’s the part about loving God with all your strength.  For the longest time, I thought of this as kind of a catch-all term; love God not only with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul, but with every fiber of what makes you, you.  A former pastor of mine opened my eyes to an even simpler interpretation: love God with your physical body.  Of course!  I still like my original understanding, though, and so I take both of them.

As I sat in the quietly in the church sanctuary yesterday morning, it was as if I knew for the first time what loving God with all my strength is.  It’s a total giving of self, until nothing is left.  Paradoxically, it’s the most fulfilling thing we can ever do.

"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." - John 10:10

Monday, November 10, 2014

Peach Peloton

Winter training rides in Macon are known as the Peach Peloton.  From November through about the first weekend in February, we build our base, riding increasingly longer distances and adding intensity.  It’s an excellent way to practice group riding techniques.  Also, I get to know my cycling friends better this time of year because, unlike at Tuesday/Thursday Worlds during Daylight Saving Time, we can actually carry on a conversation while we ride.  This past Saturday was a great kickoff to Peach Peloton season.

It was a brisk start to our ride!  I shivered a lot for the first five or ten miles, but then I warmed up.  That meant I had dressed about right for the weather.  At the first part of the ride, the temperature was 45 degrees.  When I checked my Garmin thermometer again about half an hour later, it was 57 degrees!  I was amazed at how quickly the temperature rose.  It was in the low 60s by the time we finished early in the afternoon.  Not balmy, but really not too bad – good for developing toughness.  Besides, it makes me appreciate spring and summer.

The dynamics truly are different at PP than at Worlds.  The whole point is to ride with the group.  That means that sometimes you have to ride in a way that seems a little counterintuitive.  For example, if it’s your turn to pull, you should take it easier on the uphills and go harder on the downhills.  This keeps the group together better and provides a much smoother, more efficient ride.  Some of the riders on Saturday didn’t quite have the hang of this, but I hope that as we continue over the coming weeks, our rides will get even better.

About half way into our ride, we rode over Hog Mountain near Barnesville.  I’ve heard about Hog Mountain during PP in previous years, but I don’t think I had ever climbed it before.  Sometimes, I do a shorter route when I can’t keep up the guys’ pace for the whole distance, and I guess that previously I always turned off before they climbed Hog Mountain.  Apparently, there are three ways you can ride over Hog Mountain with varying degrees of steepness.  On Saturday we picked the middle one.  Actually, it didn’t seem like a very significant climb to me.  I don’t know whether that’s because Jake (ride leader) did such a good job controlling the pace or because my fitness is currently good – probably both.  Also, I was amused by a dog that followed us all the way up our climb.  Fortunately, this was a nice dog, not an aggressive one wreaking havoc.  It was some kind of Australian shepherd mix who truly looked like he was trying to shepherd the peloton up Hog Mountain.

Here’s to Peach Peloton for 2014-2015!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fried Green 50

The Fried Green 50 is the longest, most grueling - and most fun! - gravel ride I do each year.  My friend Monte Marshall and other volunteers with the Ocmulgee Mountain Biking Association (OMBA) do a fantastic job putting together this ride.

Fall is definitely here.  I'm a warm weather lover, and so I'm still adjusting to the dropping temperatures.  However, I was quite comfortable on today's ride wearing a base layer, long-sleeved jersey, and leg warmers.  Whatever the temperature, the view from our staging area next to the Ocmulgee River was just beautiful:

The first few miles supposedly were a neutral roll-out until we got to the dirt part.  I knew Frankenbike and I wouldn't be part of the front group anyway, but I'm not sure how neutral that start was - they took off like rockets!  The Fried Green 50 is kind of a ride and kind of a race; you can ride it however you want.  I was a little ambivalent about my ride.  I wanted to enjoy the day and remember that I don't always have to compete.  At the same time, I couldn't help but try to keep track of where the other women riders were.  I decided to ride as hard as I felt comfortable and let the chips fall where they may.

One way I reined it in a little was by stopping to take a few pictures.  We rode primarily in the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge (PWR), one of my favorite places to ride.  The PWR is prime habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species.  I had to settle for a picture of this sign rather than an actual bird:

A number of picturesque beaver ponds dotted the PWR.  Fall foliage provided a backdrop to several of them.  This beaver pond at SAG 2 is surrounded by pines, also making a serene landscape:

There were plenty of SAGs, but because I was carrying my own food, I only stopped at a couple of the SAGs to refill my water bottle.  I had good momentum and rode steadily.  Except for a few brief hellos with some of my fellow riders, I did the whole ride by myself.  I didn't mind, though.  I'm usually in church on Sunday, and so today I worshiped in God's outdoor cathedral instead:

The road more graveled

There were six creek crossings throughout the route.  On the first one I forgot to downshift before I went through the water.  Therefore, I had to get off of Frankenbike and push it up the opposite hill.  I remembered to downshift on subsequent creek crossings.  Roaring like a lion helped me ford them, too.  On the climb after the third creek crossing, my legs started being a little stubborn.  I don't know why they picked that particular time.  That climb from the creek wasn't the toughest one of the day by any stretch.  Well, I just channeled my inner Jensie and thought, "Shut up, legs!"

My legs listened, cooperating for the rest of the ride.  However, my overall energy level started to fluctuate for about the last 10 miles.  For a while I felt like I could almost fly.  Then, in about the last two miles, I nearly bonked.  I thought I had planned my nutrition well, but I should have eaten one more thing toward the end of my ride.

Actually, I was kind of out of it right at the end.  Monte had this fun little dippity do at the end, featuring a hairpin turn and lots of brush.  I assume just about everyone had to push their bikes up like I did:

My brain was so fuzzy that I didn't even notice this guardian of the trail, right next to the path! (I went back later to get this picture.)

I made it to the end - yea!  As quickly as my tired bones would allow, I changed clothes and headed for the food line.  This year Monte arranged for a spaghetti dinner, provided by Jeanine's in Macon.  It was most welcome!

I heard that there were some fried green tomatoes, too, but they were all gone by the time I got there :(

I enjoyed hanging out by the campfire with everyone:

Lots of my cycling friends were there today.  Since I'm primarily a roadie, I especially enjoyed seeing my friends who are off-roadies.

When I arrived at the gathering area, several people asked me if I was the first female finisher.  I had no idea but figured I would find out eventually.  Then, as I was chilling by the campfire with my RecreationAle, my husband Robert came and tapped me on the shoulder.  Monte was looking for me to present the award for the first female finisher.  Woo hoo!  I received a deluxe, 16-oz. Fried Green 50 Styrofoam cup (bigger than the 12-oz. Fried Green 50 Styrofoam cup that each person received at check-in), and a large, green gazing ball - what fun!

Celebrating with Monte, Fried Green 50 organizer extraordinaire!
Robert and I headed for home.  Before we left Juliette, however, we had to visit Il Porcellino (Italian for "piglet"):

This is a replica of a famous Florentine sculpture created in the 1600s.  According to tradition, visitors to the original Il Porcellino rub its snout to ensure a return visit to Florence.  I hope that my rubbing this Il Porcellino's snout ensures my return visit to Juliette and the Fried Green 50.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Bats and Bicycles

For me, bats and bicycles go hand-in-hand:

The rarely seen Cyclobat

I've been a supporter of Bat Conservation International (BCI) for many years.  Several years ago Robert and I took the most wonderful long-weekend trip to Austin and San Antonio, Texas.  In Austin we did a group ride with some local cyclists and watched the bats emerge from the Congress Avenue bridge.  I thought it couldn't get any better, but it did.  The highlight of our trip was visiting Bracken Cave near San Antonio.  Bracken Cave, owned by BCI, is the summer home to the largest known colony of bats in the world, about 10 million Mexican free-tail bats!  Seeing the bats emerge from Bracken Cave was one of the most magical experiences of my life.

When I was planning my special cycling project for 2013, A Year of Centuries (www.ayearofcenturies.blogspot.com), I immediately knew that I wanted to ride for BCI as one of my charities.  Bats are such majestic and critical - yet misunderstood - creatures.  They are invaluable to our ecosystems, eating insects that destroy crops, pollinating plants, and dispersing seeds.  At the same time, bats face numerous threats in the U.S. and around the world, ranging from indiscriminate killing to the devastating White Nose Syndrome.  Recently, the bats of Bracken Cave have come under a particularly critical threat.

A developer proposed building approximately 3,500 homes adjacent to Bracken Cave.  This would disrupt the nightly flight patterns of the bats, which have been using Bracken Cave as their summer home for over 10,000 years.  Furthermore, the proposed development would lead to increased contact between humans and bats - not a good thing because the bats most certainly would lose out.  BCI went to work right away on behalf of the bats of Bracken Cave.

BCI tried to negotiate with the developer, but soon it became clear that the only real way to protect the bats was to purchase the property from the developer.  To make a long story short, BCI partnered with several other entities, including the City of San Antonio and the Nature Conservancy, to purchase the property.  Just yesterday, word was released that the Nature Conservancy was able to secure a $5 million loan to complete the purchase.  Truly, this is the best Halloween story ever!


For 17 years (almost as long as I've been a member of BCI!), I've loved dressing up as the Mad Doctor at Haunticello, which is trick-or-treating on the square in my hometown of Monticello.  This year, in honor of all the visitors to the Mad Doctor's operating room, I made a special donation to BCI to help with the purchase of the land adjacent to Bracken Cave.  I gave the trick-or-treaters a handout from BCI describing the superpowers of bats.  On the back I wrote a brief description of the plight of the bats at Bracken Cave.  How perfect, then, that this fantastic bat was one of the trick-or-treaters!

Thanks to the bats, it was the best Haunticello ever!

P.S. Funds are still needed to save the bats of Bracken Cave.  For more information or to make a donation, please visit www.batcon.org.