We gathered at The Blue Goose, a terrific bike hostel in Irwinton where the race will be staged. Robert and I are used to driving some distance to the start of Peach Peloton, but it was a novel experience for most of our buddies. We had an additional riding friend today, Don from Athens, who had seen the Peach Peloton post on Facebook about the pre-ride.
The weather was as good as it gets in January, or lots of other months for that matter. It was a beautiful sunny day with little wind, and temperatures ranged from the low 50s to mid 70s - a far cry from last week's Peach Peloton. We started out with arm and leg warmers but shed them pretty quickly. Let's hope the race itself has as good conditions!
Knowing that the route has paved and unpaved sections, we all had cyclocross bikes or at least souped-up road bikes with wider tires. Several people treated it as a recon to determine which bike they want to use for the race. The final consensus was that a cyclocross or mountain bike is necessary. You'll see why in a moment...
I headed out a few minutes before the guys because I assumed they would pass me. Sure enough, they caught me after only five miles. We rode together for about another mile, when we hit a significant dirt section. As I expected, they dropped me. I have a hard enough time keeping up with my teammates on paved roads. Dirt roads are even harder because the drafting effect is much less pronounced. Robert came off the back, too.
My Garmin had been beeping every 10 seconds or so since I started. It kept saying that it was recalculating the route. I tried several adjustments as I rode but finally had to stop. I couldn't handle the constant beeping all day. The only way I could get the beeping to quit was to end that ride and start a new one. I was annoyed that I would have to combine two Strava files to make my single ride, but that's a first world problem. I'm just grateful there's an easy on-line program to do that.
Robert and I started rolling again and soon encountered the toughest section of the route: super thick muckety muck. In fact, we caught the other guys because it was so thick that it seized up our wheels. We had to scrape off gobs of mud to walk/ride through about a quarter mile section.
Robert is less fond of off-road riding than the rest of us. He was afraid the route would have lots more of this, and so he turned around to do several hours of paved riding on his own. I decided to soldier on with the others. That was the worst of it, but we did stop for another wheel scrape down:
Between the technological glitch with my Garmin and slogging through the mud, it was like the Jetsons meet the Flintstones:
Happily, I pretty much kept up with the guys after that. The route surface mostly alternated between paved sections and easy-riding, smooth dirt sections. There was a gravelly section or two, and we did go through one short section of squirrelly, dry, loose sand, which was the second most difficult part of the route. Other than single track, we encountered about every possible type of riding surface - more variety than I have ever experienced in a single ride. That just added to the epic-ness!
Knowing that we would be in pretty remote areas for a number of hours, I made sure to carry plenty of food and liquids. We went through only a couple of towns. The first was Montrose, where I stopped briefly to take a picture. This was a pretty good Jesus pun that I hadn't heard before:
At mile 40 we stopped at a different church for a water refill. From there, Stony and Van continued on to do the full 200K. Cal, Cody, Don, and I stuck with our shorter route. About six miles later, here came Robert! He had taken a different route and backtracked until he met up with us.
We approached Allentown and had our one store stop of the day at mile 59. This was a winning combination:
|And we're riding here in Allentown|
I hope I can find these limited edition peanuts again.
The route was a big lollipop with the first and last 14 miles as the stick. Robert took a different, paved route when we got back to the stick to avoid the second venture through the extremely mucky section. Amazingly, it was much less treacherous on the return trip. I wouldn't have believed it would have dried out noticeably since the morning, but I didn't even have to get off my bike the second time. There were still really bad sections, but we picked decent lines. I'm not sure what was up with all of this. The last rain I remember getting was about 12 days ago, and so it's not like an overnight shower evaporated. Oh well, at least I know to be prepared for rough conditions in this section during the race, and I hope we don't have significant rain right beforehand.
The ride definitely wasn't as easy as lying on the sofa eating bonbons, but it was fun! I think that's because of my particular combination of riding experience: randonneuring and significant dirt road riding. I paced myself well and have no qualms about the full 200K. I'm looking forward to the Middle Georgia Epic race itself. I hope it goes as well as today.