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 décor 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|
|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!