Robert had arranged an Airbnb place for our group to stay. It was ideal. The furnishings were simple but very comfortable with an attractive rustic flair. The main house had several bedrooms and some pull-out sofas. There were also two "tree houses." They weren't really tree houses, but they were so fun! Of course, Robert and I had to stake our claim in one:
Robert and I were able to head to camp early enough to get in a ride on Friday afternoon. We had hoped that our friend Chris would be able to join us, but he couldn't get there in time. Teammates Stony and Van arrived even earlier in the day than Robert and I did and were already on the road.
Friday's route took Robert and me south over Doublehead Gap. Because it was getting late in the afternoon, and shadows lengthen even more quickly in the mountains, we rode only about an hour before turning around shortly after the descent down Doublehead Gap.
The climb up the backside of Doublehead Gap is even more challenging than the first side we had ascended. As we approached the summit near the turn-off to Springer Mountain, an old man in a pickup truck slowly passed us. Robert said, "That guy is thinking how tired we must be." Not 30 seconds later, the man pulled over at the summit and called out his window, "I'll bet you'uns tongues is draggin'!" We laughed and waved, and that buoyed me all the way back.
Robert and I met up with Stony and Van at the house. After showers, we headed into Blue Ridge for dinner at Fightingtown Tavern. Bill arrived at the restaurant shortly before we did, coming straight from Macon. While we waited for the rest of our group, we played some darts and enjoyed the decor, particularly the tributes to various rock musicians:
|Michael Stipe and Peter Buck of REM at the US capitol in 1998|
|At least we still could talk about sex.|
|Darts. Serious competition. If it's competition, it's serious.|
|Van battling it out with Bill|
|Cool folk art depiction of the 1776 flag using knobs|
|Robert getting serious in his boots|
|"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." - Jimi Hendrix|
Coincidentally, although Fightingtown Tavern didn't have any Lynyrd Skynyrd paraphernalia, Ronnie Van Zant and several others from Lynyrd Skynyrd were killed in a plane crash 40 years ago on Friday.
Pretty soon, Chris and his wife Jill and Cody and his wife Christy joined us. We had a meal of better-than-average bar food, made with locally sourced ingredients. Fightingtown Tavern proudly notes that it has no freezers and no microwaves. They also feature a number of Georgia beers. I tried a local brew called Moon Over Blue Ridge Wheat, made by Grumpy Old Men. That was in honor of my teammates.
When we got back to the house, the rest of our group was there: Cal and Jeff K. (We missed teammates Chad, Tina, and Tony at camp!) Everyone was tired, and so we hit the sack to get ready for the next day's big adventure.
Cal is recovering from a broken shoulder. We're so glad he still came to camp even though he couldn't ride. He also graciously offered to cook dinner on Saturday night. Therefore, I was glad to be the main breakfast cook.
Saturday morning was the fancier of our two breakfasts. I used a recipe for Blueberry Stuffed French Toast, but I substituted fresh cranberries for the blueberries and added some pecans. Additionally, it has a side sauce with more blueberries, in which I also substituted cranberries. I had never used cranberries in this recipe before and was a little nervous about making my teammates guinea pigs, but it turned out wonderfully. The recipe may sound complicated, but it's actually quite simple. You assemble it the night before, refrigerate it, and cook it the next morning.
I also used team camp as an excuse to make Banana Ginger Bread from my "Bats in the Pantry" cookbook. This is a really cool cookbook that features recipes highlighting ingredients that depend on bats for pollination or seed dispersal. I'd been jonesing for Banana Ginger Bread. It has five spices that make it uniquely piquant, including fresh ginger and a whole tablespoon of cardamom. FYI, the bat-dependent ingredients in this recipe include bananas, vanilla, vegetable oil, flour, allspice, cloves, beer (hops), dates, and ginger.
Along with two types of sausage, some homemade pumpkin granola, fruit, orange juice, and of course coffee (and tea for me), we were well fueled for our longest day of riding: 81 miles with lots of climbing.
The guys rode as strong as ever. I really haven't ridden with them much since Peach Peloton season ended back in February. When Tuesday Worlds started back in March, my teammates rode with the A group while I mostly rode with the B group. I've gotten to where I just can't hang when they surge and attack. Although team camp is intended to emphasize the group, both from a cycling and social standpoint, I still had to work hard on the bike this past weekend.
I got dropped the first time as we climbed Skeenah Gap, about 11 miles into the ride. I consider myself a good climber, but I couldn't keep up. Robert pulled me back on. I rode a while longer with the group, but after about 35 miles, I slowed to a pace I could maintain all day. This scenario has played out countless times over the years, but I still felt a little disheartened that I couldn't keep up.
Since it looked like I would be riding solo the rest of the day, I did what I wanted to make the ride more enjoyable. As I crossed a creek, I stopped to take a picture of this sign:
I'm an instructor with the NPDES Training Institute. We are a third party company that teaches erosion and sedimentation control certification classes that are required by the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission for everyone involved in construction. State stream buffers are an integral part of erosion and sedimentation control and, therefore, a key concept in the classes I teach. Warm waters (i.e., non-trout streams) have a 25-foot buffer, and cold waters (i.e., trout streams) have a 50-foot buffer. Most people probably wouldn't pay much attention to this sign, but I was excited to see it.
A few miles farther, I reached our store stop. It was at Sunrise Grocery, which we call The Apple Store. (Yes, that can be ambiguous!) The guys were taking a good break, but I decided to go randonneuring style, checking in and out quickly. I wanted to get a head start, even though I knew they would catch me, probably sooner rather than later.
While I was at the store, I needed to get some more fluids. Nothing much appealed to me. The relatively few flavors of Gatorade/Powerade that they had all sounded rather icky. I was about to buy a bottle of Mountain Dew. Then, as I approached the cash register, I saw a barrel with bottles of cold apple cider - perfect! After all, this was The Apple Store, and it's the height of apple season.
Even better, in walked Cal. He checked on us several times along the route since he couldn't ride. His timing was perfect because now I could buy a bag of apples that he could carry in his car. I got some Mutsu apples, my favorite variety. I always have to get them directly from North Georgia because my local stores don't carry them.
I drank a few swigs of my cider and poured the rest into my water bottle. Then, I hit the road. Just down the road was the biggest climb of the day, Wolf Pen Gap.
My frame of mind improved significantly after the store stop. I relaxed a little as I felt less pressure to keep up with the guys. Also, it had been several years since I climbed Wolf Pen, my favorite climb in North Georgia, and I rather looked forward to it. I started up the five miles of switchbacks. I got into a groove and enjoyed the climb. I could tell I was riding well.
Climbing up Wolf Pen with apple cider in my water bottle - the real kind of cider with high turbidity and little floaty pieces in it. That's about as quintessential a fall ride in Georgia as you can get.
The mountains of North Georgia draw even more motorcycles than bicycles. As I got closer to the top, a motorcyclist with a ponytail passed me. Cool! A woman on a motorcycle! Shortly before the the summit, I saw her pulled over onto the shoulder. As I chugged by, she called out, "I'm impressed!" I answered, "I'm impressed, too!" as I pointed to her motorcycle. With short legs and having only straddled a motorcycle - i.e., not having ridden one by myself - I truly am impressed with a woman with the strength and coordination to ride one. Here's to women doing what they love, even if - or especially if! - it's "non traditional."
I crested the top of Wolf Pen and began the descent. Descending is not my strong suit, but the other side of this gap isn't too bad, particularly because it lacks the switchbacks of the side that I had just climbed. Even so, I was proud that I did this descent more confidently than usual, maybe because I was feeling so good. Toward the bottom, I saw a suggested speed limit sign (the yellow kind) with 35 mph. I looked down at my Garmin and saw that I was going right at 35 mph. Woo hoo!
Then, almost out of nowhere, Stony passed me! Dagnabbit! I didn't expect to get caught that soon. But after all, he puts everyone through the Stony Grinder:
|Photo by Van|
We stopped at a convenience store in Suches. Cal drove in behind us to check on the group. Robert went inside, and I headed out again so that I wouldn't get too far behind.
I settled back into as fast a pace as I could comfortably maintain for the approximately 25 remaining miles. It truly was a beautiful afternoon. A motorcycle passed me with a man on the front and a woman on the back. She was wearing a beige crocheted shawl with a large, attractive pattern that caught my eye, probably because it was atypical motorcycle attire. I focused on other patterns around me: the multitude of branches on a tree that had fallen beside the road, the deep burgundy tassels of some type of grass, clouds, all kinds of foliage... For a few minutes, I was able to simply live in and enjoy the moment.
Not surprisingly, after several more miles, here came the blue train of my teammates. I hopped on the back for a short distance but then got dropped again. No big deal - I was tired and simply wanted to make it to the end intact.
I did catch up to Cody. I was impressed that he rode so strong because he's a big guy and doesn't climb nearly as easily as most of the others. We rode the last few miles together. Everyone made it back to the house, whooped but with a sense of accomplishment over the challenging ride.
The main thing that struck me about Saturday's ride is how much of an effect my hard, early effort had as I tried to keep up with the others. Only a month ago I rode many of the same roads on a 200-km brevet. That ride was even longer (124 miles) with even more climbing (10,492 ft), but I wasn't as spent at the end because I kept a steady pace the entire time. I appreciate the intensity required to ride with my teammates - particularly because it gives me a type of training that I wouldn't otherwise get - but it's not easy.
I felt pretty useless the rest of the day. The good thing is that there was nothing else on the agenda except hanging out with my cyclopeeps. (I was really grateful I didn't have to cook dinner!) I appreciated having some down time; I need to build more into my schedule.
Afternoon faded into evening. Cal, Christy, and Jill brought dinner outside for us to eat there. Everything was delicious: chicken parmigiana, Caesar salad, and garlic bread. Good riding, good friends, and good food - the stuff of life.
We slept a little later Sunday morning but intended to start riding earlier than the day before. So, as soon as I woke up, I jumped in to start cooking breakfast right away. It wasn't as spectacular a breakfast as on Saturday, particularly since I had forgotten to get bread or bagels, but we managed on an inadvertent paleo diet of bacon, eggs, and fruit.
We modified our Sunday route because we were concerned that some of the roads on the originally planned route would have too much traffic. So, the entire group headed out the same way that Robert and I had gone on Friday afternoon. We did an out-and-back that went a little farther, adding on a section that Stony and Van had explored. Compared with the previous day, we rode a relatively tame 37 miles, but we still climbed 3,000 feet. My-uns tongue was draggin'!
Following the ride, we all cleaned up and said our goodbyes. Robert and I stopped for lunch in Blue Ridge, which has an impressive array of restaurants for a town its size. (They have done a great job with tourism.) After some tasty soup and sandwiches at a cafe, Robert suggested we get dessert. It was the perfect opportunity to visit The Sweet Shoppe of the South.
I always wanted to stop at The Sweet Shoppe if we got to Blue Ridge. It is owned by Susan Kelly Catron, who is originally from Monticello. She and her business partner won Cupcake Wars on the Food Network a few years ago! I got a pumpkin swirl cupcake, and Robert got a cinnamon roll and coffee - a perfectly sweet ending to our trip.
|Me, Susan, and Robert|
Robert and I enjoyed talking about the weekend as we drove home. I had already analyzed my Saturday ride (an early, hard effort with the Georgia Neuro team vs. the steady effort of a brevet) and was satisfied with my performance. However, I didn't feel like I rode particularly well on Sunday. This was based on the fact that I had a hard time keeping up with the guys again. In other words, it was crazy thinking. Robert helped me put things in perspective.
Of course I was tired on Sunday after the hard ride the day before (not to mention the not insignificant ride that Robert and I had done on Friday). I even had confirmation from my Strava data that I really did ride (more than) OK: two QOMs on Sunday's ride. Also, Robert reminded me that my simply being able to spend a weekend riding with my guy teammates in the mountains and not cause logistical problems is itself an accomplishment. He wasn't being harsh, just matter-of-fact; he was acknowledging that I know how to ride hard yet pace myself, and I know how to navigate.
I find myself in a unique position. In general, I prefer riding with guys because they are usually stronger and challenge me to stretch my abilities. At the same time, I sometimes get frustrated when I can't ride at their level. I have to remind myself to ride as best I can; that's all I can do, and that's all I need to do. You'd think that at this point in my life (47 years old, intelligent, and accomplished), I wouldn't second guess myself so much. But I have a feeling I'm not the only one.
Michelle Obama recently addressed the Women's Foundation of Colorado: "We forget how strong we are. We're never reminded. We're taught subtly and subliminally that our voices are unimportant. Those are the kinds of messages that stifle girls' voices." She offered this counter-message: "Tell her every day she is smart and capable and lift her up. For so many people, the role models they follow are right in their backyard. It's their mothers, teachers, siblings, and their fathers and the men around them who every day can lift them up. Don't underestimate the power of the day-to-day motivation and inspiration in a girl's life."
Whatever we women do - ride bicycles, ride motorcycles, own businesses, make cupcakes, raise families, or anything else - may we have confidence in our abilities, offer our talents to the world gladly, and be accepted for who we truly are.
|Cody, Van, Jeff K., Robert, Betty Jean, Bill, Stony, and Cal|