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, October 18, 2015

Charlie Elliott Gravel Grinder

September and October are my mellow time of year for cycling.  The days have gotten too short for Tuesday Worlds (weekly group rides after work), and Peach Peloton (long winter training rides on Saturdays) hasn’t started yet.  I still ride five to six days per week, but right now much of my riding is on dirt roads.  With lights on my cyclocross bike, I can ride safely after work on the dirt roads near my house.  It’s slower going than on paved roads, and so I give myself a break from worrying about how many miles I’m putting in.  Then, when the weekend rolls around, it’s the perfect time for a long gravel grinding adventure!

I live in gravel grinding paradise.  An extensive network of dirt roads right near my home beckons me.  In fact, I could ride from one end of Jasper County to the other and almost entirely avoid pavement.  For yesterday’s adventure, I came up with a route that includes a number of dirt roads on which I had never ridden my bicycle.  Having a fun destination always makes a ride even better, and so I decided to ride to the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, a natural resource jewel at the northern tip of the county.

My agenda for the day was not to have an agenda.  Thus, I didn’t set my alarm clock – a much-welcomed rarity.  Not that I slept very late – I was ready to ride by 8:30 AM.

For the first time this season, I had to don cold-weather riding gear: a base layer, arm warmers, knee warmers, long-fingered gloves, and an ear warmer to wear under my helmet.  I’m a heat-loving lizard, but it really wasn’t bad out in the cool air since I was dressed appropriately.

My first order of business was to stop by the Monticello square.  Because I work out of town, I don’t get to go to our local coffee shop, The Vanilla Bean, very often.  I opted to have breakfast there yesterday:

Earl Grey tea and broccoli Swiss quiche
Then I checked out the Saturday morning farmers market.  It only goes through the end of October, and so I have to get while the getting is good.  I bought as much as I could with the cash I had on me: some boiled peanuts and one of my friend Laverne’s fried peach pies:

The boiled peanuts were to make hummus for a picnic last night (yum!), but I ate the peach pie right away for ride fuel.  (I was still hungry after my tea and quiche.)

Then, it was time to hit the dirt roads.  What a glorious morning!  I enjoy the weekly outdoor column by Charles Seabrook in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  He recently gave such an apt description of the October sky, commenting on how it seems bluer than any other month of the year.  I concur.

It was an outstanding route.  Paved roads are wonderful to ride on, but dirt roads have a beauty all their own:

One of the vendors at the farmers market, a husband and wife, had asked me if I was riding by myself.  When I answered yes, she shook her head at my supposed foolishness, and he told me I should carry a gun.  I just don’t look at the world that way.  I refuse to live in fear.  I love the solitude of my rural rides.  Besides, I take reasonable precautions, carrying my phone and a road ID and making sure Robert knows where I’ll be.  I’ll let the hunters carry the guns.  Incidentally, yesterday was the first day of firearms deer season.  Even with the hunters, I encountered very little traffic.

I did have one time constraint on my ride; I wanted to get back to the square in time for the chicken-Q put on by the Methodist men.  I love any kind of barbecue, but the chicken that the local men cook is the best.  I’ve never had anything quite the same anywhere else.  They smoke it and put various delicious seasonings on it; I’m not sure what all it includes.  The signs for the chicken-Q indicated that they would be selling plates from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM.  As I pedaled along, I mentally calculated when I would get back to the square.  Because I had not particularly hightailed it to get going on my ride, I estimated that I would get back right around 1:00.  Therefore, I modified my original route to put me back between 12:00 and 12:30 PM.  I didn’t want to miss out on the chicken!  Then, because I wanted to ride at least 50 miles total, I decided that I would ride another 10 miles or so after my chicken-Q lunch.  That was the beauty of yesterday’s ride – I could do whatever I wanted!

I pedaled along toward the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.  I’ve been there a number of times, but it’s always been in the car via Georgia Highway 11.  What a gorgeous view as I approached it from the unpaved backside:

Public fishing area

The Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center covers hundreds of acres and offers a multitude of outdoor recreation opportunities, e.g., hiking, fishing, boating, shooting, and camping.  Additionally, all kinds of classes are offered. Over the years I’ve been to fascinating classes on dragonflies, turtles, bats, frogging by ear, mushrooms, snakes, migratory birds, astronomy, creating home d├ęcor using materials from nature, and wilderness survival – all for free!  I’m so grateful to have this wonderful resource right in my backyard.

By the way, Charlie Elliott was a noted outdoorsman in the last century.  He served as Director of Georgia State Parks and as Commissioner of Natural Resources, directed the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for all of Eastern Georgia, and wrote columns for publications ranging from The Atlanta Constitution to Outdoor Life and other magazines.  Legend has it that Charlie Elliott was the inspiration for the comic strip character Mark Trail.  Yesterday I enjoyed seeing again this replica of Charlie Elliott’s office, located in the visitor’s center:

It was time to pedal back to Monticello.  Mmm…chicken-Q…

After I left the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, I got to ride on a few more new bicycling roads.  Everything was a delight: horses, donkeys, hayfields, some kind of grass with the wispiest purple flowers, and goldenrod.  I couldn’t have taken a picture of everything that caught my fancy even if I tried, but here are a few examples:

Some variety of holly, I think
Black-eyed Susans
Gate with elaborate 3-D metal sculpting - appropriate for Jasper County, the Deer Capital of Georgia

That chicken-Q was sounding mighty fine.  Usually, I don’t eat when I’m riding unless I’m going for at least three hours.  It would be about three hours into my ride by the time I got to the chicken-Q, and so the timing would be just right.   Only a few more miles …

I got to the square at 12:15 PM.  The Methodist men were just finishing packing up – they had sold out in only 35 minutes!  Major bummer.  Not only did I miss out on one of the rare opportunities to get such delectableness, I was ready for lunch.  However, I decided to tough it out, finish my ride, and grab something to eat back home.

For the last part of my ride, I did one of my regular weeknight dirt road routes, except backwards.  There’s a house with a couple of dogs that usually chase me.  Fortunately, I didn’t see them this time.  Maybe riding by at an atypical time of day or going in the opposite direction helped.

I definitely wasn’t feeling as peppy as I did at the beginning of the ride.  I had a Clif Bar with me, but I was so close to home that I decided to hold out for an actual meal.  I wasn’t in too bad shape because I even turned around to try to get a picture of a big, red, fuzzy cow ant.  By the time I got back to the spot, however, it had crawled away.  Heeding Robert’s advice, I simply took a mental picture.

At last I arrived home.  I made myself a Double Chocolate Chip Frappe, which is essentially glorified chocolate milk.  It’s a great recovery drink, and it also let me drown my sorrows about the chicken-Q.  Actually, the cheese and crackers and spinach salad that I had for lunch instead were pretty good.  Not as good as the chicken-Q would have been, but probably healthier.

Being primarily a roadie, I love the challenge of a hard group ride with the guys, pushing myself to meet monthly Strava mileage goals, and even racing.  Sometimes, though, it’s good to do a little gravel grinding just for fun.  Ride on!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Rock ‘n RollMan Half Iron Triathlon

A few weeks ago my friend Jennifer Cain put the word out that she needed someone to take her place in the bicycle leg of a relay team for the Rock ‘n RollMan Half Iron Triathlon in Macon.  Unfortunately, she injured her arm and has to stay off the bike for a while.  I’ve got plenty of training under my belt, and I would be riding anyway that day; therefore, I told her I would be glad to substitute for her in the relay.

The Rock ‘n RollMan was this past Saturday.  I met my teammates for the first time on Friday evening when we picked up our race packets at Lake Tobesofkee, the triathlon venue.  Renee was our swimmer, and Eleta was our runner.  Our team name was Here for the Beer – I knew I would like this team!

On Saturday morning I headed out from home at O dark thirty.  It was raining pretty hard, and there was even lightning as I got close to Lake Tobesofkee.  Having run a 5K in the rain two weeks before and ridden 134 miles at the edges of a hurricane the previous Saturday, I started to doubt my sanity.  Oh, well – Expect Adventure!

Swim, bike, run

The race was supposed to start at 7:30 AM, but it was delayed due to the weather.  By the time the swimmers finally did start sometime after 8:00, the rain had let up.  Eleta and I stood on the beach and watched Renee start the swim.

Then, I immediately moved to the transition area to wait for my leg to begin.

Renee had a strong swim, finishing the 1.25 miles in about 35 minutes.  She ran into the transition area and handed me our timing chip, which I attached to my ankle.  I ran out of the transition area to the bicycle mounting line and was off!

I was fairly familiar with the course.  Although I had never ridden the entire 56 miles all at once, I had ridden on just about every part of it during Peach Peloton and other rides in the area.  The first turn after leaving Sandy Beach Park was a few miles into the course.  I started to make the turn, but then the course marshals started yelling at me and the other racers, “Half go straight!  Half go straight!”  I was confused but thought I should listen to the marshals.  I figured maybe there was a last-minute course change due to the weather.  So, I continued straight rather than making the turn.  About a half mile later, a sheriff’s deputy was at the next intersection for traffic control.  I asked him if we were on the half course, but he didn’t respond; he just directed us to turn left.  Maybe a dozen other racers were around me.  I asked them if we were on the half course, but they were as uncertain as I was.  I told one guy, “I have a bad feeling about this.”  He responded, “Don’t say that!”  I even started to turn back at one point, but then I second-guessed myself again.

After a few miles, we approached a roundabout.  I asked the volunteers whether we were on the half course, but they just directed us around the roundabout.  When we made a left turn back onto Moseley Dixon Road, the road on which Sandy Beach Park is located, I knew for sure that I was on the wrong course.  Racer Number 94 passed me, and I said, “We’re screwed.”  He agreed.

I quickly assessed my options.  I could quit, but that wouldn’t do anyone any good, and I certainly didn’t want to let my teammates down.  A slow time was better than a DNF.  Of course, I was mad.  But what could I do?  Not much at that point except keep going.  I decided to get back on the correct course and ride my best.  Therefore, when I got back to the entrance to Sandy Beach Park, I pretended that I was just getting started.  I had ridden nine extra miles on the sprint tri course, but I felt good on the bike.  I would have to ride 65 miles total; I would simply treat it as a good, long, hard workout.  Maybe there would be some kind of time adjustment since so many of us were misdirected on the route.  Even if not, I put everything in perspective by thinking about all the girls in other parts of the world who can’t get an education because they have to walk nine miles every day to get water for their families.

This was the longest I had ever ridden on my TT bike, and I felt comfortable.  I started catching a number of other racers.  Obviously, most of them had already had to swim and still faced a run after the bike, but I knew I was performing well.  The course has some significant hills around Roberta, the turnaround point.  I’m a good hill climber and passed many people in that section.

Throughout most of the race, Number 94 and I kept passing each other.  Usually, I would pass him on the climbs, and then he would pass me on the downhills or straightaways.  Both of us were careful to follow the rules, not drafting, leaving at least three bike lengths between other racers, and passing within 15 seconds.  I knew that he was frustrated by the extra nine miles, too, and so I felt like we were comrades, encouraging each other along the way.

Based on my performance at the Red Clay Ramble in August (56 miles on mostly dirt in 2:57) and my performance in the last few state TT championships (22 miles in just under an hour), I thought I would do the Rock ‘n RollMan at about a 20 mph pace, giving me a time of a little under three hours.  That was exactly the pace I rode.  I was at 2:50 when I got to mile 56.  But of course I still had nine more miles to go!  That added nearly 30 more minutes.  Even so, I raced the total 65 miles very well for my abilities.

I rode as hard as I could all the way to the dismount line.  I hopped off my bike, ran into the transition area, hung my bike on the rack, and gave the timing chip to Eleta.  Run away!  Run away!

I spent several minutes gasping for breath, very thankful that I didn’t have to run.  Obviously, I would have had to pace myself quite differently if I were doing the whole triathlon by myself.  I’m glad I got to put all my effort into the cycling leg.

Number 94 ran out of the transition area a few minutes later.  Go cycling companion!

Renee wondered why it took me so much longer to finish than I had thought it would.  I explained about the extra nine miles.  We heard lots of other people talking about the same issue.

The skies had cleared, and Renee and I enjoyed a beautiful, warm fall afternoon as we waited for Eleta.  Renee and I cheered her the last few hundred feet across the finish line.  Eleta had a good run, finishing in 2:17, exactly what she had predicted.

It turns out that there was no time adjustment for those of us who did both the sprint bicycle course and the half bicycle course.  Here for the Beer just missed out on the trophies.  We came in fourth among the relay teams – only one minute behind the third place team!  Ack!  We would have been second if I hadn’t ridden the nine extra miles.  Too bad because the Rock ‘n RollMan trophies are extra cool – miniature electric guitars.  Despite the biking snafu, all three of us had fun and had a good race.

Every time I do any kind of race, I learn something.  This time I learned that race marshals don’t always know what’s going on.  I should have triple checked the course route, possibly even loading it into my bicycle computer.  In a nutshell, I should have listened to my instincts.  Most importantly, I was reminded simply to keep going – whether in cycling or in life.  I learned this best three years ago during my long recovery from my serious bicycle crash.

The best part of the Rock ‘n RollMan actually came the following day.  I had uploaded my race data to Strava.  Number 94 (Chris Hardbeck) found me on Strava, gave me kudos, and sent me a note.  It read, “I was about to take my helmet off and call it a day when you rolled up and started back out.  Got me going.  So, I owe you for that one!  Thx big time!”

Ride on!

Friday, October 2, 2015

What Cat Are You?

Cat 5 - 'Nuff said
Cat 4 - I thought there was supposed to be a feed zone.
Cat 3 - I'd cat up if I could reach the handlebars.  Oh, who am I kidding?  I'll just race masters.
Cat 2 - I think I need a shorter stem.
Cat 1 - So pro
Bonus - Cyclocross cat