Well, it's actually a haiku to BRAG because that's the only kind of poem I can write (see below for haiku to pimento cheese):
The best way to see Georgia
Gotta brag on BRAG
The Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (BRAG) will always have a special place in my heart because it laid the foundation for my cycling journey over the past few decades - with all its joy, friends, and challenges.
BRAGing Through the Years
I first heard about BRAG when I was a teenager. I was vaguely aware of an epic ride from Atlanta to Savannah, something that seemed almost too monumental to accomplish. Cycling always appealed to me, but I had no idea how to really get into it. Robert opened that door for me. When we first met in our early 20s, he was into triathlon. I don't exactly remember how it went, but somehow that led to us deciding to do BRAG together in 1994. We had so much fun that we did BRAG in 1995 and 1996 as well. By the way, my teenage impression of BRAG always going from Atlanta to Savannah was incorrect. Robert and I rode across South, North, and Middle Georgia, respectively, in those three years; BRAG goes all over the state!
In subsequent years, Robert and I started taking cycling vacations in other states and even a few other countries. Even though we haven't done the full BRAG since 1996, we are grateful to BRAG for opening our eyes to just how wonderful it is to travel, learn, and have fun by bicycle. Also, we've enjoyed participating in other BRAG events since then, including the Spring Tune Up (STU), the Georgia Bike Fest in the fall, and a ride on the Silver Comet Trail a few years ago. Robert and I even joined a BRAG group that did the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) in 2007. RAGBRAI is the original cross-state bicycle ride. It's an almost indescribable rolling party of 10,000-15,000 people - something every cyclist needs to experience at least once!
Interestingly, I believe 1994 was the first year that BRAG offered the STU. Robert and I rode in it to help us get ready for our first BRAG. I’ve enjoyed riding in the STU many times since then, particularly with it being held in Madison in recent years, just up the road from our home. This year’s STU was as fun as ever, and it fit perfectly into my RAAM training schedule. And not only did I get in some good mileage, I got to reconnect with a number of old cycling friends.
Rain threatened for much of the day this past Saturday, but thankfully it mostly held off. Despite the gray skies, I was glad to be riding, especially since Robert joined me! I wouldn’t have minded grinding it out by myself on the century option, but he made it a lot more fun (and faster).
Because we were riding at a training pace, we didn’t stop at every rest stop. When we did stop, however, the Powerade, pimento cheese sandwiches (more on that below!), snacks, and friendly volunteers were greatly appreciated. At the stop in Good Hope, I was so happy to see Bonnie, a former coworker at Law Engineering from way back during my college years. I was a co-op student at Georgia Tech, working and going to school on alternate quarters, and Bonnie was one of the drafters at Law. I have very fond memories of those days and how everyone was so kind and patient with the young pup that I was.
Incidentally, I reconnected with Bonnie a few years ago thanks to BRAG. She had posted a beautiful picture of a canola field on the BRAG Facebook page. When I saw Bonnie noted as the photographer, I commented that I knew her. She saw my comment and sent me a friend request. We’ve been back in touch ever since. Here’s a pretty picture of a canola field that Bonnie took this year:
Also at Good Hope, I caught up with my longtime BRAG friend Jerry, current CEO and former Ride Director. Every BRAG rider must know Jerry, and we all appreciate his enthusiasm and hard work for so many years to help us enjoy cycling and our beautiful state. I also got to thank Jerry in person for BRAG’s donation to my Sorella RAAM team :)
Since the STU has been held in Madison, it has developed a great tradition. In addition to the several official rest stops, there is one unofficial rest stop. It’s at the Oreo Farm outside of Rutledge. The Oreo Farm has Belted Galloway cows, commonly known as Oreo cows, which are black on both ends with a white stripe around the middle:
This photo is from the Internet because the cows at the Oreo Farm were grazing out of sight on Saturday. Fortunately, though, the other attraction of the Oreo Farm was easily accessible: Oreos, beer, and bloody marys!
This was at mile 86; I was very relaxed for the remaining 16 miles.
After showers and a light meal in downtown Madison, Robert and I headed over to BRAG happy hour at the Brady Inn. We enjoyed catching up with Ken, a riding companion on a previous STU, and Janet, who was part of our RAGBRAI group in 2007. Robert and I also found a quiet bench in the Brady Inn’s lovely garden, where we tried to identify all of the herbs and other vegetables:
We went back to the BRAG campground to listen to the Georgia Flood (band), and then we drove home. It was as enjoyable a day as I can remember in quite a while.
Robert decided not to accompany me again on Sunday, and so I drove back to Madison by myself. The chance of rain was much greater that day, but I was determined to ride regardless. RAAM training must go on! It was raining lightly as I headed out, but it wasn’t too bad, especially since I have a good cycling rain jacket. Most of the other riders had opted out for the day, and so I had the peaceful roads pretty much to myself.
Although the initial rain didn’t last that long, the bottom fell out around mile 45. I was glad for my bright yellow rain jacket and blinking rear light to make me more visible to cars. The longest route for the day was 56 miles. Somehow, however, I had gotten it in my head that there was supposed to be a 62-mile route, and so I was determined to do a metric century no matter what. After completing the designated 56-mile route, I did an out-and-back for an additional 6 miles. Yes, I’m crazy, but if I hadn’t done those extra miles, I would have missed this sign:
Hilarious yet disturbing. Sometimes it’s like living in a Flannery O’Connor story around here.
Pâté of the South
Pimentos and cheese - heaven!
Store bought? Heresy!
Pimento cheese deserves its own mention because it’s one of my favorite foods (I could wallow in it!), and there are always pimento cheese sandwiches at one rest stop during the STU.
|Photo by Bonnie!|
On Saturday Robert and I scored pimento cheese sandwiches at not one, but two rest stops! A volunteer at an earlier rest stop had begged for some of the pimento cheese, and so she was given a small portion of the main batch.
As I’ve gotten into randonneuring over the past year or so, I’ve become much more attuned to my nutrition during long rides. Although I’ve had pimento cheese sandwiches on previous STUs, it never occurred to me until this past weekend that they make such great bike food. They have protein and fat, they provide a nice contrast to the many sweet offerings, and they are easily portable. I’d be hesitant to pack pimento cheese on a brevet in July because of the mayonnaise, but what a perfect option for a cold weather ride or at an event like BRAG where coolers are available.
I must specify, however, that not just any pimento cheese will do. Store bought pimento cheese is like congealed insecticide, an apt description that I once read in a newspaper column. Also, even if it’s homemade, as it should be, it shouldn’t be too gloppy; mayonnaise should be minimized. My mother’s basic pimento cheese is delectable: grated cheddar cheese, pimentos that have been drained and chopped, a little mayonnaise, and lots of black pepper to taste. Many people have their own variations. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did a feature on pimento cheese some years ago in its Food section. It had several outstanding recipes, but this is my favorite, which I’ve been making ever since:
Georgia Quilt Project's Favorite Pimento Cheese
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
8 oz. pepper jack cheese, coarsely grated
2 T coarsely grated onion
1 7-oz. jar pimentos, drained
2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
4 T mayonnaise
Cayenne pepper to taste
Combine cheeses, onion, pimentos, and jalapenos in a medium bowl. Add enough mayonnaise to bind, about 4 T. Add cayenne pepper to taste and stir together well.
I’m so obsessed with pimento cheese that I have sought other incarnations:
- Pimento Cheese Toast – Put some pimento cheese on a slice of bread and stick it under the broiler until the cheese melts.
- Pimento Cheese Burgers – I can’t believe it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve discovered how delicious pimento cheese is on top of hamburgers. The Rookery in Macon, renowned for its hamburgers, features pimento cheese and bread and butter pickles on its Johnny Jenkins Burger – outstanding!
|I'm glad the extra mayo is on the side - don't need that!|
- Twice-Baked Potatoes – Bake a potato at at 400° for about an hour. Cut a thin horizontal slice along its length. Scoop out the insides, leaving a thin shell with the skin. Mash the scooped out potato with a few tablespoons each of grated cheddar cheese and chopped pimentos, salt and pepper to taste, and a few teaspoons of milk. Place filling back inside potato shell and bake at 400° until golden, about 15-20 minutes.
- Pimento Cheese Pizza – Brush pizza dough on both sides with olive oil and place in pizza pan. Top with grated cheddar cheese, chopped pimentos, chopped onion (preferably Vidalia), and hot banana peppers. Bake at 500° until golden, about 10-15 minutes. FYI, I’ve never been able to make a decent pizza crust from scratch, and so I use a loaf of frozen bread dough. I put it out to thaw before work, and it’s ready to use that evening. (Place frozen dough in loaf pan coated with nonstick cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap that has been coated with nonstick cooking spray.)
I need to come up with a macaroni and pimento cheese recipe, too. If you have any other pimento cheese deliciousness to share, please let me know!
BRAG and pimento cheese: two things that make life good. Ride on!