The Dirty Pecan is a dirt road ride in Monticello, FL. It offers three route lengths: 60, 100 or 150 miles. Of course, I had to choose the longest one... After racing the Middle Georgia Epic (200K, or approximately 124 miles) a couple of weeks ago, I looked forward to doing the Dirty Pecan as just a ride. Besides, dirt takes more effort than pavement, probably close to 1.5 times as much. Therefore, simply finishing the 150-mile option at the Dirty Pecan was my only goal.
Robert doesn't do as much off-road riding as I do, and so I planned to go to the Dirty Pecan by myself. I didn't mind. Not that I wouldn't miss him, but I kind of looked forward to proving to myself I could be self-reliant on such a big cycling adventure.
On Friday after work, I headed to Monticello (FL, not home!). It was my second visit to this lovely town in about six weeks. At the end of January, my Georgia Neuro cycling team spent a weekend in Monticello. The beautiful roads and mild temperatures made it an ideal location for a winter training camp. By the way, I have a longtime connection to Monticello, FL. Robert and I have had greyhounds for nearly 22 years, and many of our greyhounds came from the Jefferson County Kennel Club. The racetrack closed a few years ago, and our adoption group has shifted its efforts to Ebro. Still, as I passed the old facility a few miles north of downtown, I thought of Robert's and my beloved greyhounds who have passed away and felt gratitude for all the tremendous volunteers who work so diligently to find homes for as many greyhounds as possible.
Before I got to Monticello, I stopped in Thomasville, GA for dinner. I went to the Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop, which I've wanted to visit for a long time. Sweet Grass produces artisan cheeses that are served in high-end restaurants in Atlanta and sold wholesale across the Eastern U.S. The store in Thomasville offers samples and has a casual yet classy restaurant. I enjoyed a hamburger with pimento cheese and bourbon bacon jam, a side spinach salad, and a glass of Spanish red wine featuring Cabernet franc, one of my favorite grapes. As if that weren't great enough, there was a giant photo of a chicken on the wall:
I definitely need to go back and take Robert. Maybe we'll get a chance in May at the Georgia Tandem Rally, which will be in nearby Valdosta this year.
From Thomasville, it was about a 30-minute drive to my motel in Monticello, the Super 8. I wasn't looking for the Ritz, just something clean, comfortable, and relatively inexpensive. It was all those things. It also had a group of young guys staying there before a wedding the next day. They were playing cornhole in the parking lot outside my room. I couldn't resist. I put on a T-shirt over my pink flannel pajamas with the bicycles on them. Then, I pulled my shirt up over my head, walked outside, and did my best Cornholio impersonation:
I usually don't sleep too well the night before a big cycling event, particularly when I'm in unfamiliar surroundings. It's just as well because the cornhole dudes woke me up several times with their all-night partying. I tried to be gracious in my heart, thinking about the couple who had an even bigger day coming up than I did.
The ride didn't start until 8:00 AM, which gave me time to eat a free continental breakfast at the Super 8 - woo hoo! When I stay at a motel before a brevet, I have to pack a breakfast because I usually have to leave for the ride before the motel starts serving.
We gathered for the ride at the University of Florida extension office a few miles west of downtown Monticello. Some riders had camped on the spacious grounds, and the remnants of the previous night's bonfire felt really good in the early-morning, 40-something degree temperatures:
As I waited in the starting area, I ran into my cycling buddy Pete. He was doing the 60-mile option and planned to race it. As he so correctly put it, if you've got a starting point and an ending point, there are going to be guys who race. When I told him that I was doing the 150-mile option, he warned me that there weren't a whole lot of stores along the route. I explained that I was prepared, pointing to my jersey pockets filled with four Clif Bars, an Epic bison bar, a can of sardines, a cut-up apple in a plastic bag, and some homemade trail mix (peanuts, raisins, and chocolate chips). All my food supplies weighed down my jersey, making it hang down to my butt. Pete congratulated me on my J. Lo. look.
We were off! I stayed near the front group for the first few miles. After a short distance, we got to a bad sandy spot. Remembering how Robert had told me that it's easier to go fast through such areas, that's what I tried to do. Unfortunately, a couple of guys in front of me slowed down in the soft, deep sand, and I veered right into even deeper sand to avoid hitting them. I fell over, and a couple of others went down, too. Fortunately, none of us was really hurt thanks to the soft landing spot. However, that put a substantial gap between me and the front of the pack. I resigned myself to solo riding, which I had expected anyway.
A little while later, I caught up to a guy that looked like he was riding about my pace. However, he was only doing the 100-mile option. Bummer - for both of us. He hadn't been able to upload the gpx or tcx file with the route and was trying to rely on tire tracks in the dirt. That's a heck of a way to try to navigate! I told him I'd be happy to direct him for as long our routes coincided. We picked up a few other guys who were doing the 60- or 100-mile route. Unfortunately for me, they soon went in a different direction as the 150-mile option split off. Back to solo riding.
I settled in for a long day, fully expecting not to see any other riders. I stopped for a photo opp on a particularly picturesque road that illustrates why the Dirty Pecan is so aptly named.
Just as I was getting my phone camera ready, here came some other riders. I waited a few minutes for them to move out of view, but I was't patient enough. If you look very carefully in the distance in the photo, you can barely make out a couple of riders.
Then, I caught up and passed these same riders. Later, I played leapfrog with still a few other riders as I stopped for more photos. This field of greens was absolutely lush - the most beautiful collards I've ever seen.
Across the road was some other crop growing profusely. I don't know what it is, but the lacy, green tops were lovely.
I had plenty of food. Liquids were a little sketchier. I had two bottles of Skratch Labs powder mixed with water, but I would need a lot more to drink than that, even though it was a cool day. The precautions about it being a self-supported ride were totally serious. There were only two store stops available on the entire 150-mile route. I made sure to get water at churches when I could. Fortunately, I was never in danger of running out of fluids.
The first store stop was at mile 67 in Boston. Georgia, that is. The Liberty convenience store was like an oasis. Four other riders were there at the same time I was. We enjoyed sitting on the curb, taking a short break and refueling. One of the guys got some fried chicken at the store. I opted for the sardines I had packed because I knew it was one of the few places where I would be able to dispose of the empty can. I had duct taped a plastic fork to the can. When I pulled everything out of my jersey pocket, I discovered that the end of the fork and tines had broken off in that morning's minor crash. I used the fork handle to scoop up the larger pieces of sardine. Then, I sopped up the mustard sauce with one of my apple slices. Rocket fuel.
One of the guys left the store before I did, and the others were still there when I left. I passed the first guy fairly soon, and then it was more solo riding.
I was grateful for the second store stop in Cherry Lake. I bought a magic Coca-Cola and sat outside at a table to drink it. The sugar and caffeine in Coca-Cola - particularly at mile 108 - are what make it magic. A store clerk sat down at the table next to mine. We chatted for a few minutes. She was about to begin an eight-hour shift after having run a mail route. She had started at 6:00 AM and wouldn't be finished with work until midnight - an 18-hour workday. I told her that she would inspire me as I finished up my mere 10-hour (I hoped) bicycle ride.
I felt pretty good and hoped to make it back to the extension office in Monticello around sunset. This sign buoyed my spirits:
If this were up North, it would be something like Chowder Rd and Pierogi Way.
Because of my experience doing long brevets, I knew that my Garmin battery likely would die before the end of the ride. I have a charger that I can attach to my bike, but for this ride it was simpler to bring a backup computer. Sure enough, I got a low-battery message. I decided to let my Garmin run until it died before switching to my backup.
Then came an unexpected twist: about two miles of hike-a-bike sand. It was impossible to ride through. Obviously, others had had the same problem because I saw footprints alongside tire marks. Not much I could do except hoof it. That was a major slowdown that meant I definitely would have to do some night riding. I wasn't worried about that, though, because I had front and rear lights.
While I was hiking, sure enough, my Garmin went out. I swapped it out with my backup. However, for some reason the course file on my backup wouldn't load. Fortunately, I had grabbed a map and cue sheet at registration that morning just in case. We had been warned that no such provisions would be made, and so thank you to whoever changed that policy. As much as I enjoyed the ride, one comment I would make is that better maps should have been provided ahead of time. The only way to get the course was to upload a gpx or tcx file. I had to find an online app simply to view the gpx file on Google Earth or Google maps. I like to have a feel for the route ahead of time. In fact, I normally build my own route file from whatever map and/or cue sheet is provided.
I didn't have a cue sheet holder, and so I stuck the papers down the front of my jersey, which was easier to access than my pockets. I would memorize a few turns at a time and then stop to memorize the next few turns. This wasn't a bad system with only 18 miles to go.
Woo hoo! Back on faster pavement and only 14 miles to go. What's that ahead? A blinking taillight - another cyclist! Maybe I'll have someone to ride with at the very end. Or not - the cyclist went straight at the next right turn indicated on the cue sheet. Oh, well.
Straight at an intersection, another straight, and then left on Ashville Highway. From there, I was pretty sure I could find my way back even without a cue sheet because I was back on roads that were familiar from team training camp back in January. Wait - the second straight was actually a T-intersection, albeit slightly skewed. Did I miss a turn or something? I checked Google Maps on my phone and saw that I was on the correct route. The cue sheet should have indicated a turn.
The sun was setting. Despite being tired, frustrated by the horrendous sandpit, and totally ready to finish, I appreciated the beautiful rose-colored sky to the west through orchards of pecan trees.
Monticello city limits - just a few miles to go. I went around the traffic circle at the courthouse, heading toward the extension office. About a mile from the end, I spotted the same cyclist with the blinking taillight. I said hello as cheerily as I could as I passed her.
I finished! The grounds were empty except for my car and a few others. One fellow called out to me right as he was leaving. I asked him if I was supposed to check in with someone. He said no one else was there. Hmm...even though I didn't need a juice box and a hug every 20 miles, I did expect the basic courtesy and safety measure of someone being at the end to make sure everyone made it OK...
The guy left, and a few minutes later, the woman I passed during the last mile rolled in. She had done the 100-mile route. Bless her heart, she had been out there as long as I had! We wished each other well and were glad we both made it safely. She must have wanted more chamois time because she didn't even change clothes before heading out.
On the bright side, it was now totally dark. That's a bright side because I was alone again and didn't even have to bother with ducking down in the passenger side of my car to change clothes. I could simply stand out in the open next to my car.
It was too late to get the barbecue meal I had purchased. I suppose I should have had the foresight to realize that it wouldn't work for the 150-mile option. At least 4-H got a donation out of it. So, after a quick text to Robert, I drove off in search of vittles.
Before I got back to the roundabout in Monticello, I saw three of the guys I had seen back at the first store stop in Boston, GA. (I don't know what happened to the fourth guy; I hope he made it back.) I rolled down my window and shouted encouragement.
Pizza sounded like the perfect recovery meal. The Lazy Lizard Pizza Company was happy to oblige, and, apparently, they have no problem with serving homeless looking people.
I drove the few miles back to the Super 8, which now seemed palatial. After a marvelous shower, I lay in bed, figuring that I wouldn't move for the next 12 hours.
Actually, I woke up a little before 7:00 AM. I dressed and went to the motel registration area for another complimentary continental breakfast. Then, I headed back to Monticello (home, not FL!).
Before I really got going, I made a brief stop at a roadside stand that sells yard art. I figured they wouldn't be open early on a Sunday morning, but I had fun taking a quick look. I love kitschy stuff like this:
It's just as well that they weren't open. I would have wanted to buy something, which wouldn't have fit in my car with my bike and gear.
As I drove home, I enjoyed listening to my latest audio book from the library, a spy thriller. Interestingly, it has taught me a new word: pakhan. It's the Russian mafia equivalent of a godfather. It's pronounced "puh-KAHN," the same way I pronounce the nut.
By the way, the National Pecan Shellers Association polled Americans and found no clear consensus about the correct pronunciation of “pecan.” Some people say “PEE-can,” and some say “puh-KAHN.” Some even opt for “PEE-kahn” or “puh-CAN.” Pronunciation doesn’t seem to follow any regional, urban vs. rural, or other pattern. Furthermore, I happened to look up the correct pronunciation of “piquant.” There are three: “PEE-kuhnt,” “PEE-kahnt,” or “pee-KAHNT.” Therefore, there are 12 possible ways to say, “piquant pecan.” I'll bet the pakhan likes piquant pecans.
Back home, I laid out my swag. I bought one of the Dirty Pecan T-shirts. I suppose I need to start collecting T-shirts depicting bicycles with wheels made out of various foodstuffs.
I also got some dirty (chocolate-covered) pecans.
They are really good and have a hint of cinnamon. I've only let Robert and me have a few at a time each evening for dessert along with our hot tea. We've managed to eat only half the bag in the last few days.
One last note: I had planned to ride the Dirty Pecan for a number of months, but the timing turned out to be great. On Friday before I headed to Florida, I gave my two-week notice at my job. When one quits one's job, what else does one do but ride one's bicycle 150 miles? Obviously, I've given a lot of thought to changing jobs, and I've worked toward it for several months, but I'm still a little nervous. However, I'm even more excited! As I rode hour after hour on the dirt roads of Northern Florida and Southern Georgia, I took a little inspiration from Mary Tyler Moore - for both my career and successfully completing the Dirty Pecan.