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, March 22, 2015

Eating Sardines in the Rain

Usually I enjoy my training rides, even the tougher ones.  Today, not so much.  It was really a combination of factors.

I went into my ride with a less-than-optimal attitude because I had several things on my mind.  Often I can ride through such mental fuzziness and feel better, but today I wasn't having much success.  Maybe that's because it was raining, too.  A lot.  It's always hard to start in the rain.  Once you get out there, it's not so big a deal, but you have to get over that initial hurdle.

Then, about 45 miles into my ride, I had a stupid crash.  I wasn't even going very fast, but as I rounded a corner, I went over on my side.  Fortunately, neither my bike nor I were hurt very seriously, but I did bang up my hip and elbow.  Ow.  I do have one thing to be grateful for, though.  A very kind woman who was driving by and saw me fall turned around and came back to  make sure I was OK.  That really meant a lot to me.

The rain continued to drizzle.  I stopped to eat my sardines.  I needed the protein boost.  It occurred to me: what kind of crazy person sits out on a country road eating sardines in the rain?  Maybe I should have just ridden over to Milledgeville from there.  (If you're a native Georgian, you'll know exactly what I mean.)  At least my crash injuries weren't too severe.  I checked myself and my bike more thoroughly at my sardine stop.

The rain intensified as I continued my ride.  I modified my original 100-mile route, going only 80 miles.  Maybe the fact that my modified route included a dirt section will make me seem like less of a slacker.

Robert came out in his car to check on me, offering me a ride about 15 miles from home.  I thanked him but said no, I was going to finish it.  It was one of those days when I simply had to get through it.

The best part of my ride was that I had my favorite flavor of sardines, the ones in Louisiana hot sauce.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rouge Roubaix

Those crazy Cajuns - who else would come up with a 102-mile race with three dirt sections (including one 20% climb) and some paved sections worse than the dirt sections?  It was a blast!

Road Trip!
Robert and a few other Georgia Neuro teammates went to Rouge Roubaix last year and had such a good time that I decided to join them this year.  On Friday morning the two of us plus Stony and Van headed out toward St. Francisville, Louisiana, which is about 30 miles northwest of Baton Rouge.  Road trip!

We met at Stony's house.  While we were waiting for Van to get there from taking his kids to school, we stood in the driveway, chatting with Stony's wife Jodi.  Admiring the handy, four-bike rack on the back of Robert's Nissan, Jodi said, "Nice rack!"  Our eyes got wide as we all looked at each other, and then we burst out laughing.  It's not too often that you hear a woman say that to a man.  (And when it's vice versa, a slap usually ensues.)  That was a good preface for the drive to Louisiana.  Van, who seems like such a quiet, unassuming guy, is actually quite hilarious.  He and Stony both kept us entertained.

Cajun Hospitality
The drive from there to the Magnuson Hotel in St. Francisville took approximately 8 1/2 hours.  We were glad to have rooms at the race hotel, particularly since the race would be starting right at its front door.  A fleur de lis fountain gave us a warm Louisiana welcome:

Race package pick-up was already available.  Each of us received a terrific musette with the Rouge Roubaix logo:

My current lunch bag is getting kind of worn out, and I will enjoy replacing it with my musette.  The race organizers were kind enough to give me an extra musette, too.  My sister, who is a French teacher, will love it!

I also bought a Rouge Roubaix jersey, a great memento of the weekend:

The three guys and I then did a bike walk to check out the last few miles of the race course and the finish line.  Afterwards, we met up with our fellow cycling friends from Georgia: Jake, John, and their mechanic Byron with the Cherry Street Cycles team and Matt R. from Columbus.  We carpooled down to Baton Rouge for dinner at The Chimes.  I thoroughly enjoyed some good beer, delicious oysters on the half shell, and a nice, big spinach salad.

Pi Day
Saturday was an extra special day.  Not just because we had a Rouge Roubaix recon planned for the afternoon, but also it was Pi Day!  I love celebrating Pi Day every March 14, but this year it was epic.  That's because it was on 3/14/15.  The digits of pi are 3.141592653...  Therefore, I had to celebrate really hard at 9:26:53.  (We had two opportunities to do so on Saturday, A.M. and P.M.)

As a math lover, I have several pi shirts.  With this once-in-a-lifetime special Pi Day, I brought two pi shirts on our trip.  I wore my chicken pot pi shirt to breakfast:

On the way to breakfast I had seen a beautiful egret by the pond in front of our motel.  I kind of regretted not stopping then to take a picture, but I was happy to see it still there when we returned.  I wish I could have gotten closer before I scared it away.  I love water birds.  This is the best picture I could get.

After indulging in a late morning nap, I joined my teammates and the other guys from Georgia for our afternoon course reconnaissance.  The course covered an area north of St. Francisville that extended into the southwestern tip of Mississippi.  We focused on the three dirt sections.  The first one was much like the dirt roads I ride near my house, but not as hilly.  The second dirt section was much hillier than home, featuring several significant climbs.  It also had one particularly sandy section, which was still somewhat moist from the heavy rains that had fallen in the previous few days.  However, because such sandy soil drains quickly, we knew that this area would be a lot trickier to navigate by race time.  I'm not a very good technical rider and planned to take all of the dirt descents carefully anyway, but I was glad to see what I would be facing.

Then it was time for the infamous Big Bertha.  This is the first climb in Tunica Hills, the third dirt section of Rouge Roubaix.  Big Bertha isn't a terribly long climb, but it has a 20% grade!  I was happy to make it up without walking.  We'd just have to see, though, how I would fare during the race itself with 80 miles in my legs.

The Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area is beautiful.  It has several other significant hills in addition to Big Bertha.  The climbs, corresponding descents, narrow roads, and strategically located mud puddles and potholes made this one of the most challenging portions of the ride.

Slightly muddy after the recon
The road more graveled through Tunica Hills
Van is the walrus.  Goo goo g'joob.
The Tunica Hills region has fascinatingly unique geology resulting from alternating Ice Age and warmer periods.  During the Ice Age conditions, expanding glaciers ground down rock in the upper Midwest, forming "rock flour" or loess.  These sediments were carried downstream by the Mississippi River during subsequent warmer periods when the glaciers began to melt.  As the climate cooled again, the flow of the Mississippi River decreased, and wind carried the loess to the east, forming the Tunica Hills.  Later, bayous eroded the hills to form channels and gullies.

Pi Day Redux
After the recon, we all went to dinner together.  Matt W. from the Cherry Street team and his wife Kim joined us, too - the more, the merrier!  (They had been visiting friends in Baton Rouge the night before.)  We drove a short distance to New Roads, LA for dinner.  It's on the other side of the Mississippi River, which we crossed on a cable-stayed bridge that looked especially grand at sunset:

We sat on the deck at Satterfield's, which highlighted another intriguing geological feature, the oxbow lake.  It looked like we were on the Mississippi River, but it was actually a U-shaped lake that was formed when a meander of the Mississippi was cut off due to sedimentation, creating a free-standing body of water, i.e., an oxbow lake.

I continued my Pi Day festivities by eating some crawfish pi while wearing my cow pi T-shirt:

I likely would have ordered this dish anyway because I love crawfish, but who knows when I might get to celebrate Pi Day again with a Cajun flair?

Race Day!
After a good night's sleep, it was game on!  I was a little nervous because this was my first road race since my very serious crash three years ago.  I've essentially given up mass start races, but I made an exception for Rouge Roubaix because there was a separate women's field, and I figured that the long distance would spread out the field.  Twenty-seven women did the race, the largest field Rouge Roubaix has ever had.  My competition came from as far away as Colorado and Ohio.  One of them in particular looked like she could kick the rest of our asses.  I guess she did because she made the podium!

The first 3.75 miles were a neutral roll-out.  I was on the front, pedaling easily.  When the race went live at the first turn, I picked up the tempo.  I had no idea whether a group would try to break right away or if it would be more of a tea party.  Not that I have that much road race experience, but I've seen both situations in women's races.  This time it was somewhere in between - a good solid pace for the first 25 miles, like a hard Tuesday Worlds.  It was pretty challenging because we went on some fairly rough rural roads.  I had to keep concentrating to stay with the peloton while simultaneously avoiding the serious potholes.

We turned onto the first dirt section.  That's all she wrote.  I was pedaling as hard as I could, but I got dropped like a hot potato.  Honestly, I wasn't surprised, and I wasn't totally heartbroken.  I had already suspected that I wouldn't be able to keep up for the whole race.  Also, some of the worst paved sections were still to come, and it would have been nerve-wracking to deal with them in a group.  So, I just put my mind to riding as hard as I could for the rest of the race.

I did manage to pass a few other women who popped after I did, and no women passed me after I got dropped.  Knowing that I would climb better than average on the two remaining dirt sections, I thought I would place fairly well after the front group.

I had already been riding at or near threshold when I was dropped, and I hoped that wouldn't come back to haunt me late in the race.  Fortunately, it didn't.  All my training - long endurance rides, intervals, dirt road rides - paid off.  My fueling strategy from brevets worked well, too.  I had three unwrapped Clif Bars in my jersey pockets, which I ate every hour and a half.  Two bottles of Heed kept me hydrated and provided additional calories.  Additionally, there were three feed zones with neutral support, i.e., water bottles that you could reach out and grab.  One nice touch is that Rouge Roubaix provides real water bottles with the race logo, not just disposable bottles of store-bought water.  The reusable Rouge Roubaix bottles make nice souvenirs, too!

By the way, I had worn plain, black cycling shorts instead of my team bib shorts to make it quicker to take nature breaks.  Robert had told me that I wouldn't feel the need to take one, despite the approximately six hours I would be on the bike.  He said that it's the weirdest thing; he can't go for more than an hour on a Peach Peloton ride without taking a nature break, but he never has to take one during a race, even a long one.  Robert was right; I never had to stop!

The sandy area in the second dirt section was, in fact, even drier and more treacherous than the day before.  I did have to hop off my bike and push it through that trough.  On the other hand, I was able to pedal up every climb, even Big Bertha!  Woo hoo!  That was one of my goals for the day.  I reached all of my other goals, too: no crashes, no mechanicals, and riding well for my abilities.  I wanted to finish in less than six hours, which I did; my official time was 5:45.  Not that I was fresh as a daisy at the end, but I wasn't dying, either.  I was happy with my performance.  I wound up placing 13th out of 27, in the top half - I'll take it!

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig
We took showers at the motel and hit the road home as soon as possible.  It was a long drive, not to mention losing an hour going from the Central to the Eastern time zone.  I slept as much as I could in the car.  Robert and I dropped off Stony and Van in Macon and headed to our house in Monticello, arriving around 2:00 A.M.  Monday morning - and work - came all too soon.  It was worth it, though, for such a fun weekend!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Augusta 400K Brevet

I’ve done 200K’s, and I’ve done 300K’s.  A 400K is truly a step up – and one that I’m glad I took.  It certainly wasn’t easy, but I’m grateful and proud that I was able to keep pushing through to get it done.  And believe it or not, overall it was fun!

First, a big thank you to everyone who made my ride possible.  Kevin, our Audax Atlanta RBA extraordinaire, did an outstanding job keeping track of all of the riders, making sure we were safe and had everything we needed.  With this being my first 400K, it became even more apparent to me how much Kevin does for us randonneurs.

Also, I couldn't have made it through the ride without my buddies Ian and Jeff.  More details are below, but simply having them with me during the final miles in the wee hours helped me make it to the end.  Ian and Jeff, you are excellent examples of the camaraderie that randonneuring is all about!

Finally, my dear husband Robert does so much to support me in my adventures.  Not only does he help me procure and set up the equipment I need for such long rides, he enthusiastically encourages me to get out there and ride, even if it takes me away from home for a day or two.  Much love to you, Robert.

Speaking of equipment, I had a new dynamo headlight that I got to use for the first time.  Robert got it for me for Christmas, knowing that I wanted to do some longer brevets this year.  It's a really high quality Supernova, made in Germany.  German technology for bicycle lights is state of the art because cycling is so prevalent in Germany, and they have strict laws governing bicycle lights and night riding.

A dynamo light is ideal for extended night riding because your pedal strokes power the light; you don't have to worry about carrying enough battery powered lights.  A capacitor stores enough energy to keep the dynamo light going at brief stops (traffic lights, etc.).  Additionally, because it only takes a few watts of the cyclist's power to run the light, there's not a noticeable effect on riding performance.  I got my local bike shop to mount the dynamo hub in a wheel for me.

The headlight has a mount, which is sold separately.  A few weeks ago I realized that I needed to hurry up and order the mount.  Every vendor I could find in the U.S. was sold out; therefore, I went straight to the Supernova manufacturer in Germany.  Robert had ordered the light directly from them and said it only took a few days to get here.  Wouldn't you know it; the mount didn't arrive in time for the 400K.  Fortunately, my MacGyver spouse rigged up a mount with some zip ties, an old piece of tire, and assorted other whatnot.  It worked like a charm!  Note: the mount showed up today - d'oh!

There are dynamo rear lights available as well, but I opted for the battery powered rear lights that I already have.  They are lightweight and don't run out of power as quickly as a battery powered front light.  I brought three battery powered rear lights with me and only needed two.

When I was getting my bicycle ready, Robert asked me if I wanted to use the trunk bag that mounts on my seat post.  I laughed and said that there's no way I could make it through this ride without it!  My Stelvio, which is a good quality racing bike, transforms quite well into a randonneuring steed:

If possible, I try to spend the night before a brevet at home.  Many of them are close enough where that's possible, but this 400K really wasn't one of them.  It's a 1 1/2-hour drive from my house to Augusta, which means I would have had to leave my house around 4:00 A.M. to get to the 6:00 A.M. start (I like to be there 30 minutes early), which means I would have had to get up no later than 3:15 A.M.  That was too much, especially for a 400K.  Besides, I definitely needed a motel room for after the ride, and reserving it for both nights made the logistics a lot easier.

I found a good motel deal on-line.  They were offering a 15%-off winter special, which made my two-night reservation about the same price as I often spend for one night.  I knew it wouldn't be the Ritz, but that's not what I was going for.  I really just needed a clean, safe place with a bed and shower.

The motel shall remain nameless.  It wasn't horrible, but it was borderline.  When I went to the check-in desk, the woman behind the counter looked at me like I had three heads when I told her I had a reservation.  I honestly thought that she was going to tell me that they only rented by the hour.  It turns out that she wasn't expecting anyone because she didn't have any reservations on the books for that evening.  A phone call to her boss, however, revealed that he had a record of my reservation but just hadn't entered it into the check-in computer.

The room was adequate.  No rodents scurried out when I pulled the sheets back – I was good to go.  At least it was better than the Drake Motel in Jackson, Mississippi circa 1980.  Growing up, my family took many a road trip from Atlanta to Dallas to see my grandparents.  My father is, shall we say, frugal.  (Guess we know where I get my tendencies from.)  Our family of four stayed at the Drake for $20, which was cheap even back then.  The carpet squished when you walked on it.  Yeeg.

Ride Start
I got up at 4:45, had breakfast, and was out the door in about 30 minutes.  The motel was only 8 miles from the ride start, and so I should have arrived about 30 minutes ahead of time.  The problem was that I couldn't find the start!  I put the address into my phone GPS, but it took me to the wrong location.  Then I started driving up and down Washington Road looking for the Publix where we were supposed to meet.  Next, I put Publix into my GPS, but it took me to a different Publix on Washington Road.  Then I put in the name of the shopping center.   It seemed too far out because I had already driven in that direction past the point where most of the commercial development petered out.  I was starting to panic because it was almost 6:00.  Then, I told myself to calm down and tried to think of another strategy.  I got it; I entered the name of the first turn on the course, Old Washington Road, and continued on Washington Road until I finally saw the correct Publix.  When I had checked Google Maps a few days previously to look at the route between my motel and the ride start, it looked very straightforward, and so I didn't give it any more thought.  From now on, I'll study the route to the start as closely as I study the course route!

Amazingly, when I arrived at about 6:05, everyone was still there.  Kevin himself had arrived only five minutes earlier after oversleeping.  They were about ready to pull out, but again, I told myself not to panic.  Most of my gear was already ready to go.  I went over my checklist, knowing it was preferable to take an extra minute then rather than be without something I needed on the long ride.

I got on the road less than 10 minutes after everyone else.  I knew I shouldn’t kill it because I was going to be on the road for a lot of hours.  I kept up a steady pace and even passed three other riders within the first 10 miles.  At the first control at mile 36 in Norwood, I caught up with Ian, Jeff, and Brandon.  They were fixing Jeff’s flat tire, one of several he had that day.  They were ready to leave the control a few minutes before I was, but I told them not to wait for me.  I hoped to catch them up the road.

Take a Think

Gomer Pyle might have needed a bucket to help him take a think, but I find that a bicycle works beautifully.  At least earlier in a ride - later, I have no idea what goes through my mind!  Although I enjoy good companionship when I'm riding, I also relish the times when I have solitude.  I wound up riding about 75 miles by myself on Saturday.  Here's a sampling of what was going on inside my head:

Color My World
The temperature ranged from about 35 to 45 degrees over the entire ride, and it was overcast for most of the morning.  It seems like this winter is never going to end!  Despite the bleak conditions, I started noticing brilliant, eye-catching colors during my ride.  First was the breathtaking view of the sunrise on a hardwood hillside.  The lighting was almost indescribable as the bare branches appeared flame-like against the grey-blue clouds.

Later, I saw a fox squirrel.  They are bigger than regular squirrels, having fluffy fur that does make them look a little like foxes.  Fox squirrels can be one of several colors, but this one was jet black!

On the other end of the spectrum was a white Great Pyrenees that I saw protecting its herd of goats.  These majestic dogs are often used for this purpose.  They'll chase you on a bicycle (this one was fenced in, thankfully), but I admire their dedication to their work.

Farther along the route, I saw a particularly enticing looking stand of planted pines, maybe 10-15 years old.  They were a rich, dark green with their lowest branches about 4 1/2 feet from the ground.  I could imagine myself as a young girl running around under these pines - exactly the kind of place I used to like to play.  As I continued pedaling past these pines, I saw a sign for the tree farm: Dancing Pines.  The perfect name!

It was time for some fuel.  Having already had a few rounds of carbohydrates, I was ready for some protein.  I started looking for a place to pull off on the side of the road to eat my hard boiled eggs.  (Since they're kind of slippery, I didn't trust myself to try to eat them while riding.)  I found just the spot, next to a lovely patch of daffodils.  For me, their bright yellow is the flower harbinger of spring.

I did spend a little time thinking about work.  We're going through a transition at my office.  The bosses recently hired a consultant to help us improve our overall approach.  Of course we already do some marketing, but as engineers, that's not our strongest suit.  Therefore, they plan to hire someone dedicated to marketing.  In the meantime, we all got some pointers last week about marketing, specifically the dreaded cold call.  This is pure torture to me.  It's not that I dislike people, but I think pay-at-the-pump and grocery self checkout are some of the greatest inventions in recent years.  I avoid talking on the phone, opting for e-mail whenever possible.  My best strategy is to keep busy with billable work so that I don't have to make marketing calls.

Which brings me to the next work issue.  Our main AutoCAD guy just took another job.  He is quite skilled in Civil 3D, which is a very specific type of AutoCAD that requires a lot of experience, and the training is expensive.  Almost everyone in the civil engineering business is looking for someone who can do it.  I know some basic AutoCAD commands, enough to do my job, but I really need to expand my capabilities.  It's kind of overwhelming.

What I'd really like to spend all my time doing is riding my bike, eating good food, and drinking good wine.  I could be a professional hedonist!  No, that won't work because a hedonist wouldn't do a 253-mile bicycle ride.  Besides, I hear that hedonist pay isn't great.  Better bone up on those AutoCAD skills.

For a while during my ride, I became fixated on the word "Stankonia."  Don't ask me why; it's just one of the great mysteries of cycling.  If you're familiar with hip hop, you might recognize Stankonia as the title song from an album by OutKast.  It's also the name of an outstanding hamburger at The Rookery, one of Robert's and my favorite restaurants in Macon.  It's in the heart of downtown on Cherry Street, serving a nice selection of craft beers, including several from the local Macon Beer Company.  The Rookery also serves the best hamburger in town, even having the option of locally grown, grass-fed beef.  The various burgers are named after famous Georgians, mostly musicians.  There's the Johnny Jenkins Burger with pimento cheese and butter pickles.  The Allman Burger has Swiss cheese and mushrooms.  The Jimmy Carter Burger has peanut butter and applewood smoked bacon.  The Ray Charles Burger has pepperjack cheese, applewood smoked bacon, and guacamole.  The Walden Greenback Burger has fried green tomato, green onions, applewood smoked bacon, fresh chevre, and sun-dried tomato remoulade.  The latest addition to this incredible lineup is OutKast's Stankonia Burger, which has Georgia red cheese, collard greens, and crisp country ham.  I don't know about you, but just writing about all these burgers makes my mouth water.  The funny thing is, I didn't want a hamburger during my ride; I was just rolling the word Stankonia around and around in my head.

That's because I was remembering the first time I ordered the Stankonia Burger.  I actually know nothing about hip hop and, therefore, was not familiar with Stankonia.  I saw it on the menu and thought it was something like koinonia, the Greek word for Christian love.  After all, Koinonia is the name of the farm in Sumter County, Georgia where Habitat for Humanity started.  I thought this was somehow the connection between the hamburger and Georgia.  Koinonia is pronounced "coin-uh-NEE-uh."  Robert about fell out when I ordered the "stank-uh-NEE-uh" burger.  After our waiter left with our order, he informed me that it's pronounced "stank-OWN-ya."  At the end of my 400K ride, I'm sure I had some stank on me.

Although I wasn't craving a Stankonia Burger, I paid particular attention to my nutrition throughout my ride.  Proper fueling is key to a good ride, and I handled it well.  I made sure to eat something about every hour and a half, even if I wasn't noticeably hungry.  This is my strategy on 200 and 300K's, and I just extended it for the 400K.  I estimated that it would take me about 20 hours to do the ride, meaning that I would need about 13 things to eat along the way.  Each "something" is usually not too big: a Clif Bar, some trail mix, a piece a fruit, a couple of hard boiled eggs, or a can of sardines.  I make sure to include several protein sources throughout the day, thus the eggs and sardines.  I carried about 9 things to eat in my trunk bag and jersey pockets, filling in the other items at the controls.  Controls (checkpoints) are usually at convenience stores.  We randonneurs like to buy something at each one to thank the cashier for signing our brevet cards, proving that we got to the control during the allowable timeframe.  Each brevet also usually has a control at a restaurant.  This allows for a real meal during the ride, a welcome break from all the bike food.

Hydration is also vitally important, often more so during the winter when you don't feel as thirsty.  I'll drink water only on rides up to about 50 miles long, but beyond that I need the calories and electrolytes of sports drinks.  I start the ride with Heed, made by Hammer Nutrition.  Robert and I usually get lemon-lime Heed.  To me, it really doesn't taste like lemon-lime.  It's more what I would call unobtrusive, which is a good thing.  Drink flavors that otherwise might be OK can taste pretty icky on long rides.  When I run out of Heed, I get Gatorade or Powerade at a convenience stores.  Other tasty and nutritious options are chocolate milk and V-8.

Companions (yea!)
At last I caught up to Jeff at about mile 75.  He had just finished changing his third flat tire for the day.  He had finally found and removed the small piece of metal embedded in his tire that was puncturing his inner tubes.  You know what was cool about meeting up with Jeff?  The first thing he started talking about was power.  It's like I finally found someone who spoke my language.  So many of my cycling friends don't use power as a metric, but I find it to be pretty indispensible.  (Robert, a.k.a. Data Ho, is the most notable exception because he taught me most of what I know about power and exercise physiology in general.)  Jeff and I agreed that particularly on a 400K, you can't judge your effort by speed.  Power is such a better indicator because it helps you pace yourself.  I noted that when I met up with Jeff, my average power was 143 W, really higher than it should have been.  He asked me what my FTP is, which I know to be about 210 W.  FTP, or functional threshold power, is the highest power you can maintain for one hour.  The longer the ride, the lower percentage of FTP you can maintain.  (Incidentally, when I checked my average power a few hours later, it had dropped to 127 W, much more in line with what I expected.  Furthermore, I averaged only about 108 W for the last 30 miles or so.)

We continued on to the second control at Watson Mill Bridge State Park:

Kevin was there with drinks and snacks.  I poured some Coca-Cola (full octane) straight into my bottle.  Kevin apologized for not having any ice, but I didn't care.  Even served neat, that Coke tasted surprisingly good.

Brandon caught up to Jeff and me as we were ready to get back on the road.  The three of us rode together to the next control in Franklin Springs.  Brandon wanted to rest up a little longer than Jeff and I did, and so we left him there but picked up Ian.  Ian, Jeff, and I stayed together for the remaining 130 miles.

A few miles after the Franklin Springs control, Jeff pointed out that we were half way there.  I immediately broke out into "Half way there - whoa-oh!  Livin' on a prayer!"  Ian and Jeff didn’t seem to appreciate our Bon Jovi moment.  What a shame, because I rarely sing in front of other people, especially with such gusto.

We rode through Hartwell, staying single file because it was one of the busier roads of the day.  As we were leaving town, we were amused by a strange sign with one word: BUNNYTUNA.  It didn't seem to be associated with any store, but it appears to have been there for a long time.  Here's a vintage photo of it:

Jeff was trying to decide whether bunnytuna would be preferable to the sardines that I had eaten at the last control.

We crossed a bridge near the dam at Lake Hartwell.  Between the volume of traffic and the jarring rumbles at the edge of the road, I was grateful that we were traversing this section while it was still daylight.

We wanted to wait until the Huddle House control for a meal, but we were also ready for a little more food than we'd had at the earlier controls.  Therefore, we took more time than we otherwise would have at the next control, a convenience store in Iva, SC.  As we were preparing to leave, I had a glove mechanical.  I was wearing my best winter gloves.  They look kind of thin, but they are very warm due to the liner.  The problem is that the design isn't very good.  (I'd expect better of Rapha.)  If I don't take my gloves off carefully, the liner gets turned inside out, making it hard to get the gloves back on.  Usually I can poke each finger liner back into place with a pen or a stick, but they were being stubborn this time.  First, I tried using some Slim Jims from the convenience store.  The owner finally took pity on me and got out a screwdriver, which did the trick.  I took extra care when I removed my gloves again at the Huddle House!

At last we reached the Huddle House in McCormick, SC at mile 200!

Jeff, Ian, and me
We were all more than ready for a meal.  The guys got breakfast food, but the country fried steak with gravy appealed to me.  It came with two sides.  I ordered okra and green beans.  I would have gotten the sweet potato fries, but I didn't want two fried sides.  Then it occurred to me that I was getting fried okra with my country fried steak.  Oh, well.  It didn't kill me that one time, and it tasted pretty good.  I guess I was hungrier than I realized because the guys were amazed that I finished my whole plate.

Back on the Road
With 50 miles to go, I knew I would make it.  I just didn't know how deep I'd have to dig to get there.  A very light drizzle started soon after we left the Huddle House.  Ian and Jeff stopped to put on their rain shells.  I thought it was overkill, but they were the smart ones.  The forecast had shown rain much later in the day, after our ride would be over, and so I hadn't brought any rain gear.  My outer jacket was somewhat rain resistant, but it wasn't truly waterproof.  I wound up having to tough it out as the rain continued and intensified.  Thank goodness I've been riding in lots of difficult conditions all winter, which gave me the mental toughness I needed to get through.

At first, the final miles weren't too bad.  We had a good, long discussion about frogs, particularly all the upland chorus frogs and spring peepers we were hearing.  Upland chorus frogs sound like rubbing your finger along a comb, and spring peepers make a distinctive peeping noise.  I mentioned that on Friday night, Robert and I had had dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Eatonton that has some terrific frog sculptures.  Robert, who has been teaching himself conversational Spanish over the past couple of years, for some reason asked me what the Spanish word for frog is.  I don’t speak Spanish, but suddenly it popped into my head that the Latin name of many frogs is “rana” plus something.  Since Spanish is a Romance language, I thought the Spanish word might be similar.  Not only is it similar, it’s the same!  When I told this to Ian and Jeff, Jeff remembered a children’s rhyme that his wife, who is from Cuba, taught him.  Spanish speaking parents say this to comfort a child who has hurt himself/herself:

Sana, sana, colita de rana, si no sana hoy, sanará mañana.

It pretty much means, “Feel better little frog butt.  If it doesn’t feel better today, it will tomorrow.”  Too cute!  And appropriate for us as we fought through the pain of our 400K.

The Final Stretch

Sometime around midnight, Jeff broke a spoke.  He was able to jury-rig his wheel to finish out the ride, but I know he wasn't thrilled to have to mess with that on a dark, cold, deserted road so close to the finish.

We continued on.  I rode behind Jeff and Ian, who were keeping up a lively conversation, I’m sure partly to keep themselves energized.  I began to feel sleepy, and so I started singing songs to myself.  I tried to think of ones that I knew all the lyrics to, which seemed kind of limited in my continually fatiguing state.  A few of the songs I came up with were “Just What I Needed” by The Cars and “Doraville” by the Atlanta Rhythm Section.  After a while, Ian asked me who I was talking to.  I said I was singing to keep myself going.

I wish I had done like Ian and Jeff, who had gotten some Mountain Dew at a convenience store near the Huddle House.  I'll have to remember that for the late hours on future extra-long brevets.  They seemed to be doing pretty well in the middle of the night, but I was having to fight sleepiness like I had never experienced on the bike.  When I told the guys how sleepy I was, Ian offered me a gel with a caffeine shot.  I accepted gratefully, and it was a huge help.  Thanks, Ian!  I think that had a lot to do with getting me to the end.

I don't remember exactly what was going through my mind at the end, but I just kept telling myself to keep going, that it wasn't too much farther.  At last, we made the turn into the parking lot.  I was so cold, wet, and tired, but I was thrilled to have completed my first 400K!

I returned to my motel room; it felt like a castle!  Originally, I had thought I would go straight to bed, but I was so cold that I had to get in the shower first.  I turned up the heat and fan in my room as high as they would go and then spent about 20 minutes under that wonderfully warm water.  Then I put on my pajamas, socks, and a jacket and got under the covers – snug as a bug in a rug.

I slept for about six hours, woke up feeling pretty good, and checked out of the motel.  I had thought I might have breakfast at the Cracker Barrel a few blocks away, but I was ready to get home.  As I drove, I listened to an audio book and savored the apple and leftover trail mix from my stash of bike food that I hadn’t eaten on the ride.  When I got home, I ate a little more and took a two-hour nap.  I won't be setting any power records on the bike for at least a few days, but all in all, I'm feeling great.

If you've made it this far into my narrative, congratulations!  It probably took you about as long as my ride did.  I enjoy writing about the details; they help me remember and even relive my adventures.  Thanks for joining me!