On Saturday I did the Athens 300K brevet. I thought, yeah, I’m going to do a 300K – no big deal. Maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t done a ride that long since last spring, but I forgot that a 300K really is a big step up from a 200K. I’ve done this course before, as well as several other 300Ks, but Saturday was tough. It wasn’t just me, either. Several other people said the same thing. Also, 7 out of 21 riders DNFed – 1/3! Was it the cold? Was it because this brevet was held earlier in the year than before? I’m not sure. But I still had a lot of fun, and it was a great way to ease back into some longer distances. As always, I am very grateful for Kevin, our Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA), and my other fellow randonneurs.
It was a big group, especially for a 300K. I was happy to have some of my regular rando buddies with me, Andrew, Josh, Julie, and Robert N., plus a couple of new friends, David and Scott. It was particularly impressive that Robert came out for the ride. Less than 36 hours previously, he had gotten back from the Tour of Tasmania – a 1200K brevet!
The temperature was around freezing when we started. I’ve ridden in plenty of cold weather, but I had a different, weird experience that morning. Even with my heaviest winter riding gloves, I usually have some numbness and/or pain in my fingers during the first part of a cold ride, but it goes away as my blood flow regulates the heat I produce while I ride. The first strange thing on Saturday is that my fingers went through several cycles of cold/warm. When we got to the first convenience store, I went inside to go to the bathroom. After being in the store a few minutes, my hands started to really hurt. I’ve experienced this before as my cold hands have begun to warm, but this time the pain was excruciating! As I stood in line for the cashier to sign my brevet card, I felt nauseous, and then I got really lightheaded. I bent over and propped myself on an ice cream case. I thought, “Am I dying?” More importantly, “Will I be able to finish the ride?” Concerned, Julie checked on me and encouraged me to come back outside and stand in the sun. I got my card signed, went outside, and sat on the curb. The debilitating lightheadedness passed, and I felt completely like myself again. Thankfully, I didn’t have any further repercussions for the rest of the ride. Strangely, Andrew had a very similar reaction to mine. We discussed it as we rode and concluded that we must have warmed up too quickly from the cold, like a glass container that shatters when it’s transferred too quickly between cold and heat. I think it had something to do with blood pressure, too. I have relatively low pressure. One time my doctor asked me if I ever get lightheaded when I stand up, and I replied yes, sometimes. He said that the best way to fix that is to not stand up so quickly.
All of us were glad as the day warmed up noticeably after that. We continued our journey on the beautifully sunny morning. We were averaging a little over 15 mph. Although this is significantly slower than, say, Peach Peloton, I was enjoying the manageable pace and the opportunity to talk with my companions. Besides, I didn’t want to overcook it. David, who was doing his first 300K, started complaining that the group was riding too slowly. I told him that we were just right; we still had 200K to go!
Soon we came to the most interesting control of the day, the Georgia Guidestones. Although I have visited the Guidestones several times before, they always intrigue me with their mystery, even eeriness. They consist of four large granite slabs in a radial pattern with a smaller slab in the middle and one on top. It’s reminiscent of Stonehenge. The granite was quarried locally. In fact, nearby Elberton is the Granite Capital of the World. No one knows who designed or paid for the Guidestones. Whoever it was apparently wanted to leave a positive message with those who visit. On each side of the four outer granite slabs, ten guiding principles are engraved in eight languages. Here's a sample:
The Guidestones might bring to mind 2001: A Space Odyssey or – for those with a darker bent – the apocalypse. I simply take it at face value; the Guidestones have advice that we all would do well to heed.
Our next stop was Richard B. Russell State Park. Kevin met us there with some much appreciated water and snacks. As a bonus, I scored a free magnet at the park office! I’ll always take free cycling swag.
I suppose I should clarify what free cycling swag I’ll take. In 1995 my husband I did the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (BRAG). That year it went from Rome to Augusta. One of the overnight stops was in Elberton. As all the wonderful Georgia towns do, Elberton rolled out the red carpet for the BRAG cyclists. One of the events that night was a raffle. When they held up a parakeet in a cage, I had a feeling that they were going to pull my ticket. Sure enough, I won the parakeet! Since that wasn’t practical for me to carry on the ride, they gave the parakeet to a local person and gave me a substitute raffle prize, a nice coffee table book on the history of Elbert County. And no, I didn’t have to carry that on my bike. BRAG has 18-wheelers to carry the riders’ bags.
Back to the brevet…
We pedaled on, enjoying the day. The next control was in Royston, home of baseball legend Ty Cobb. It was an open control, and we picked a good one, thanks to Julie. As we rode through downtown, she noticed Granny’s Farmers Market. It had some good looking produce and some other locally produced yummies. Among our group of six, we bought two loaves of peach bread and three bags of Amy’s Burmese Peanuts. The peanuts were deep fried (like Spanish peanuts in a can) and seasoned with ginger and garlic. The little pieces of garlic were especially delicious! We sat out on the sidewalk tearing off chunks of peach bread and scarfing down peanuts. Great bike food! We ate our fill and carried the leftovers in our bike bags.
David partook of another delicacy from Granny’s Farmers Market: chocolate milk. Not just any chocolate milk, but locally produced, unpasteurized chocolate milk. Now, chocolate milk is an excellent drink during or after a long bicycle ride. Also, I’ve had delicious, unpasteurized chocolate milk from a farm near my house. But I wouldn’t drink an entire half gallon during a ride! I couldn’t even drink that much if I weren’t on the bike! Yes, that’s what David did. A few miles after Royston, David started complaining that we were riding too fast. This is the same guy who had complained that morning that we were riding too slowly. I guess he had to drop back from the rest of us due to a gastrointestinal milkshake. I hope he wasn’t too miserable. Even so, this is now definitely part of Audax Atlanta lore. We look forward to embellishing it over time.
The next segment was the hardest part of the ride for me, from about mile 125 to 150. I think that’s where my body was wondering why I didn’t stop at 200K. But I kept pushing – that’s part of endurance riding. Then, we came upon an oasis! Our randonneuring friend David Nixon, who didn’t do Saturday’s brevet (not David of the chocolate milk), set up an extra rest stop near his farm at about mile 133. It was most welcome – thank you, David! This was on the longest stretch between controls, about 38 miles. That may not sound very far, but that part of the route also has lots of rollers that seem more challenging after riding for so many hours. David’s hospitality gave me just the boost I needed to get to the next control in Jefferson.
At the control in Jefferson, we had some more peach bread. It wasn’t quite as tantalizing as when we first got it. Bike food gets rather wearying after a while, but you have to keep eating. Sometimes it’s a matter of simply figuring out what doesn’t sound too icky at the moment. Fortunately, I had a good energy level for the rest of the ride. Maybe I was better regulating my fueling, or maybe my body finally decided to go along for the long ride.
We stopped at one more convenience store before the end. As we rolled up, a jolly looking fellow with a full, whitish beard was standing outside the store smoking a cigarette. He looked like Santa Claus’s younger brother. He asked if we had come for the all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, pointing to a hand-drawn sign on the door. That actually sounded quite delicious. I told him we’d be ready for it in about 18 more miles. Then he asked if we were riding a long way or just locally. Perhaps it was delirium from having ridden 175 miles, but I couldn’t help but break out in Johnny Cash’s, “I’ve been everywhere, man. I’ve been everywhere, man.” Grinning from ear to ear, he said he had that song in his big rig. I love crossing paths with these fellow travelers on life’s road.
Our group of five was ready to pull out for the final stretch when Andrew noticed that he had a flat tire. Bummer. He tried fixing it, going through several tubes and checking for debris in the tire, but he never could get it to hold air. Sadly, we decided to call Kevin to pick him up, and the remaining four of us would finish the ride.
|Andrew's tire was flat but his attitude wasn't!|
It was a real team effort to make it to the end. Julie had a front light for her bicycle, but she had forgotten her usual helmet light to help her read the cue sheet. I figured, no problem, I had the map on my Garmin. This worked perfectly until my Garmin battery died at mile 181. Scott had a light to see his cue sheet and started calling out the turns. Then he broke a spoke; we all crossed our fingers that he would make it to the end as he snapped, crackled, and popped. Then my front light went out! I’m really still a newbie when it comes to randonneuring, at least on the longer distances. I used to have two good front lights but lost one in the community shuffle during RAAM last year. I didn’t expect to have to ride in the dark more than a couple of hours on Saturday and assumed that my one remaining front light would suffice. I do have a dynamo wheel hub, which I got with 400K and longer rides in mind. I’ve learned my lesson, though; from now on I’m going to use my dynamo on 300Ks, too. Fortunately, I had plenty of light to see thanks to the front lights of my three remaining companions. Julie made the astute observation that we should have borrowed Andrew’s lights as backup. D’oh!
After 15 hours and 23 minutes, we finally made it back to the Spring Hill Suites where we had started. That was the longest a 300K has ever taken me. And this was even with Julie doing her best schoolmarm impersonation, shooing us in and out of controls as quickly as possible. (Alas, I never got to eat my can of sardines!) Later, I learned that the last riders to finish were nearly 3½ hours behind us, which is quite a spread. That’s another indication of the difficulty of the ride. By the way, Kevin wasn’t at the end to meet us because he went to pick up a few guys who were hanging out at a pub in Jefferson. If I had known that was an option, I might have been tempted!
Andrew was back at the motel. He and I chatted with the receptionist, who was collecting our signed brevet cards for Kevin. We told her about riding for 15+ hours in the cold and wind, David’s lactic escapades, Andrew’s flat, etc. She just shook her head as if to say, “You poor, crazy people.” The more she shook her head, the more Andrew and I tried to convince her how fun it all was.
Following several huge years of cycling (A Year of Centuries, my first R-12, RAAM), at first I didn’t think I’d have a big cycling goal this year. However, toward the end of 2015 I decided to go for the Super Randonneur (SR) Award this year, given by Audax Club Parisien, the randonneuring world headquarters club in Paris. The SR Award requires doing a 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K in the same calendar year. I’ve already completed a 200K and 300K. Next up: the Augusta 400K – in only two weeks! I’m glad for the Athens 300K to start getting me mentally prepared.