Road biking, dirt road riding on Frankenbike, tandem riding, group riding, time trialing, randonneuring - I love to ride, and I love to write. As I've traveled along on two wheels, I've learned one thing: Expect Adventure. Join me on the journey!

Betty Jean Jordan

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Alien Invasion

It was a uniquely beautiful and surreal night for a dirt road ride.  The nearly-full moon disappeared and reappeared in the partly cloudy skies, backlighting the trees into silhouettes.  As the wind whooshed by my ears, I thrilled in the solitude of the beloved rural roads of my home.  Crickets chirped their gratitude for the unseasonable warmth - companions unobtrusive.  A white tail flashed before me in the post-crepuscular hour.

That's when the aliens invaded.  I love the Sci-Fi ringtone.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Wings and a Pear

Every once in a while, I love doing the type of ride I did last Saturday – pure enjoyment, let the speed and power data be whatever they will be.  This kind of ride is especially good for dirt road riding because, by its nature, it’s slower than riding on paved roads.  And for me, fall is the perfect time for such a ride because I purposely take a break from the Strava distance challenges for a few months.  I have to structure my unstructured-ness.

A bonus on such a ride is to have a fun destination.  I had been wanting to trying a new local restaurant, Bryan’s Wing Hut.  I came up with a great plan: ride a few hours on some less familiar dirt roads and then pick up some wings for lunch on the way back home.

It was chilly and overcast when I headed out on my cyclocross bike.  That didn’t dampen my spirits, though.  I ran a few quick errands in town and then stopped by The Vanilla Bean.  Peach Peloton starts next Saturday, and so it’s going to be several months before I get another chance for a Saturday morning pre-ride visit to The Vanilla Bean.  I got a cup of ginger twist tea and a banana-chocolate chip muffin (slightly warm!) – the perfect fortification for my cycling adventure.

Most of my dirt riding is in the fall and winter, when it’s too dark to ride on paved roads after work.  With lights on my bike, it’s safe to ride on the sparsely traveled dirt roads near my house.  That’s the thing, though – on those weeknight rides, I don’t have enough time to venture very far.  During the day on a weekend, however, I can do some exploring.  I mapped a route that took me on dirt roads in the north part of the county, near Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center.

Soon after I headed out from The Vanilla Bean, the clouds began to clear.  Patches of sunlight streamed through streaks of grey clouds, backlighting the red, orange, and yellow leaves.  The pines provided just enough green contrast to give the whole scene that uniquely autumnal look.

The sun began warming everything up.  I was quite comfortable in my cool-weather riding gear.  It was good just to feel my muscles move.  Round and round in that panacean rhythm.

A couple of years ago I rode to the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center on dirt roads.  This time I turned off of Murder Creek Church Road a little south of there.  I mused about the strange juxtaposition of words in that road name.

Then I got to the really fun part – some roads in the Clybel Wildlife Management Area (WMA) that I had never ridden on.  The Clybel WMA has several ponds interspersed among acres of woods.  I saw a few fishermen around the ponds, but mostly it was a solitary ride.  When I’m in places like this, I never understand why they aren’t just packed with people.  My soul craves the kind of beauty I saw that day.  It was so beautiful it almost hurt.

Magical therapy…

My route continued south, back toward home.  I savored the day, enjoying going at my own pace.  I transitioned back into rural residential areas and then approached the Monticello city limits.  Time to go by Bryan’s Wing Hut.

Bryan is Monticello’s mayor and recently opened his Wing Hut after retiring.  I got to chat with Bryan himself while another worker prepared my wings.  I ordered wings only, figuring that would be all I could carry on my bicycle.  I kind of hoped I would be able to carry them in my jersey pocket, adding to my repertoire of Stromboli, sopes, and olives.  Alas, my wings came in a Styrofoam clamshell.  That’s not too big an alas, though.  It was still notable that I carried them in my backpack along with a library book and some wooden clothespins from that morning’s errands.  (I had stashed my backpack at the office while I rode.)

The wings and I made it the last few miles back home.  With a pear on the side, it was the perfect way to cap off a stupendous dirt road ride on a glorious November day.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A November Weekend in Middle Georgia

The first weekend in November has become one of my favorite of the year.  It has two events that I really look forward to: the Deer Festival on Saturday and the Fried Green 50 on Sunday.  These are a couple of reasons why I love where I live.

Deer Festival

Jasper County has an abundance of deer (see my previous post).  We're even the Deer Capital of Georgia.  Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising that Monticello is home of the Deer Festival.  Every small town in Georgia has a festival.  Some celebrate important agricultural crops, like the Blueberry Festival (Alma), the Peach Festival (Fort Valley), and the Pecan Festival (Blackshear).  Other festivals have more obscure origins, like the JugFest (Knoxville) and the Fire Ant Festival (Ashburn).  I grew up in metro Atlanta, and so I wasn't even aware of these kinds of festivals until I moved to Monticello nearly 22 years ago.  Sure, Atlanta has its share of music, arts, and miscellaneous festivals (Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival, anyone?), but they are nothing like the Deer Festival, Monticello's signature event that more than doubles the city's population for a day.

White-tailed deer had all but disappeared from Georgia by the early 1900s due to hunting and deforestation.  Beginning in 1928 and lasting until 1992, the U.S. Forest Service and the Georgia Game and Fish Commission (later the Georgia Department of Natural Resources) began restocking white-tailed deer, bringing them to Georgia from other states.  Restocking in the mid 1900s in Jasper County was particularly successful.  One factor in this success is that about 30% of Jasper County lies in the Oconee National Forest.

Our burgeoning deer population drew hunters, which provided a boost to the local economy as the hunters needed food, lodging, gas, and other amenities.  In 1966 the first Deer Festival was held as a thank you to the hunters.  It's still going strong in 2017, its 51st year.

Deer Dash

In 1998 I was serving on Monticello's Downtown Development Authority.  In conjunction with the chamber of commerce and a local bank, we began the Deer Dash 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run.  We thought this would be a good way to pump some life into the long-established Deer Festival by attracting a new demographic.  It's been quite successful.  This year's Deer Dash was the 20th running.

I joke that running is barbaric (it is), but I run just enough to fairly comfortably do two 5Ks in the fall: the Athletes Helping Athletes 5K to benefit Southeastern Greyhound Adoption (SEGA) and the Deer Dash.  I run the SEGA 5K because I'd do just about anything to promote greyhound adoption, and I run the Deer Dash to support my local community.

A few months ago I started running one day a week to get ready for the two 5Ks.  Endurance is no problem because of all my cycling, but I did need to wake up my running muscles.  Usually, I'll do a little speed work before the 5Ks, but I didn't bother with that this year.  Work has been so busy this year that I haven't done much specific training; I just ride or run as much as I can.  So, I went to Saturday's Deer Dash simply wanting to have a decent run.

I drove uptown about 45 minutes before the race.  I took Allie, one of my greyhounds, with me.  I don't run with her, but it's fun to walk around with her after the race.  She stayed in my office during the race.

As everyone lined up at the start line, I thought about the course.  Four state highways go through Monticello.  These state highways are mostly built on ridges.  Obviously, we want the route to stay off the state highways, and so it goes perpendicular to the ridges, making for a quite challenging course.  There's one particular big hill about halfway through, which we call Heartbreak Hill.  I decided to use my usual strategy: I'm good at climbing hills on my bicycle, and so every time I have to run up a big hill, I pretend I'm on my bicycle.

It was a warm morning for November.  I felt better than I expected during the race.  I kept as fast a steady pace as I could.  I used the hills to my advantage, trying to pick up a few seconds on the competition on each one.

As I approached the finish line, the time was about 24:50.   A good race for me would be to break 25 minutes.  I wasn't quite going to make it.  Then I realized that I hadn't seen the seconds portion clearly.  I could break 25 minutes after all!  I ran as fast as I could across the line (I wouldn't call it a sprint) and finished in 24:44.  I was very happy about that.  What really surprised me is that when I ran the SEGA 5K a few weeks ago on a significantly easier course, I ran it in over 25 minutes.  Oh, well - I'll take my 24:44.  As a bonus, it was fast enough to win female masters!

I retrieved Allie from the office.  We walked around and visited with friends, neighbors, and people I see only once a year at the Deer Dash.  Robert had come uptown, too, before a long ride he had planned later in the day.

One person we were especially glad to see was Brooke Bittinger, one of Robert's coworkers from about 25 years ago.  That's when Robert and I were dating, back in Atlanta.  Robert worked at Black & Veatch, and they had a particularly fun group of young engineers and scientists.  Brooke looked just the same.

Following the Deer Dash, I drove home with Allie, took a shower, and headed back up town to enjoy the Deer Festival.  This time, I rode my bicycle.  By late morning, parking gets a lot trickier.  Sure enough, when I returned to the Jordan Engineering parking lot, it was now full.  No problem, though - I put my bicycle inside and walked to the square.

Venison Cook-Off

The first order of business was getting some lunch at the Venison Cook-Off, sponsored by the Kiwanis Club.  For $10 you can sample all the entries.  There weren't as many as usual this year, but what was there was delicious: BBQ, chili, grilled chunks of tenderloin wrapped in bacon, and chowder.  The chowder is really a stew with small pieces of potato, but it's the most fitting name.  It was dubbed so by Mr. El, longtime local Kiwanis member.  Mr. El was beloved in our community and passed away only a few weeks ago.  I missed chatting with him at the Venison Cook-Off as I had in years past.

Jimmy Mudd, one of the Venison Cook-Off participants, had these two deer antlers connected by a rope next to his cooking area.  You're supposed to be able to hang them in a tree while you're hunting, clack them together, and attract bucks.  He said it looked really good on TV, but he's not so convinced about how they work in the real world.

More antlers (closeup)

After I went to the Venison Cook-Off, I checked out the rest of the Deer Festival.  There were several booths with animals.  First, I visited the alpacas - swoon!

The alpacas remind me of my favorite comic strip ever that I drew:

If I could draw more than stick figures, I would love to be a cartoonist.  Given my limited artistic abilities, I have primarily entertained just myself over the years with my drawings, which I call Fiddlesticks.  (I did have a short run in The Monticello News).

Next, I visited my friend Christina, who works at Dauset Trails in neighboring Butts County.  She brought several reptiles, including Squirt:

Squirt is 10 years old.  Dauset Trails knows his age because they have had him since he hatched.  His lower shell is just becoming concave, indicating that he is male.  Before that, they weren't sure of his sex.

And there were baby goats!

These Nigerian Dwarf goats were hanging out next to the Yellow Rose Farm booth.  This vendor is local, offering soap and other goat milk products.


People of all kinds show up at the Deer Festival.  It's a true snapshot of life in the South.  On Saturday I particularly enjoyed catching up with friends and neighbors as well as simply people watching.

There's one guy that I never see anywhere except at the Venison Cook-Off.  He and I leaned up against the same pickup truck in the cook-off area, enjoying our venison in companionable silence.

It was great to see my friend Lu (farthest to the right).  She's had some major health issues, but she was well enough to perform with her clogging group.

Lu looks like Aunt Clara from Bewitched.  Lu even acts like Aunt Clara from Bewitched.  Maybe Lu is Aunt Clara from Bewitched.

Then there are the masses I've never seen before.  I think a lot of them live in Jasper County, but we must run in different circles.  This woman intrigued me; she was wearing a Georgia Grown backpack with some kind of camouflage hat and veil.

This next woman doesn't exist outside of the South.  I'm talking about the shirt, the pants, and the shirt and pants together.  I simply had to take a photo, but of course I wanted to be discreet.  I acted like I was taking a picture of the Confederate monument in the center of the square, and then at the last second I moved my camera.


In addition to the Venison-Cook off, the Deer Festival has plenty of more typical festival food.  It wouldn't be a festival without funnel cakes:

I didn't actually eat a funnel cake.  This one was just on display...all day.  Mmm.
If I hadn't filled up on venison, I definitely would have hit up this food booth:

How cool is that?  Rice, vegetables, and a choice of several grilled meats, served in a pineapple half.


I have to pay a big complement to Pam, Director of the Monticello-Jasper County Chamber of Commerce.  She has a real talent for marketing and festival planning.  She was the chamber director for many years, moved away, and then came back.  While she was gone, the quality of the Deer Festival declined significantly.  Since Pam came back a few years ago, she has made a concerted effort to recruit vendors who offer excellent handmade goods.  We've gone from plastic aliens to fine pottery, metalworking, and other really nice items.

Pitcher plant!  It's carnivorous.  I didn't trust myself to buy one of these since I have trouble with everyday houseplants.
Rosie the Robot replica.  I was very tempted to buy her.
I'm not a hunter, but this vendor was really nice to teach me a little about duck calls.  All the ones at the left are mallard calls, the most common kind.  The ones on the right are wood duck calls.  He demonstrated them for me.  So interesting!
Some things I did buy:

Green tomatoes from a local farmer (I turned them into a Green Tomato Casserole on Saturday night), horseradish cheese from the Amish cheese vendor from Ohio, and a Positive Pineapple koozie.  Some local, entrepreneurial, young men established Positive Pineapple, and I was happy to give them a little support.

I splurged and got myself this lovely alpaca wool short sweater.

After I finished checking out the Deer Festival, I walked a few blocks to Reese Hall, which was having an open house.  Owner Judy Hunsucker has done a phenomenal job restoring this 1800s house over about 18 months, saving it from the brink of ruin.  Opening at the beginning of this year, it's now an elegant bed & breakfast, food kitchen for takeout items, and event facility.  Reese Hall is a true asset to our community.

As I walked back to the office, I stopped by the library to get an audio book for the coming work week.  (I'm teaching classes three days this week, which means a good bit of commuting time.)  I enjoyed chatting with a couple of my librarian buddies.  I don't remember how it came up in conversation, but they told me about a discussion they had had earlier in the day about spaghettification.  How could I have gotten this far in life and not know what spaghettification is?  It's the process by which a body is stretched and ripped apart by gravitational forces as it falls into a black hole.

This reminded me of all the vocabulary words I learned from reading Nancy Drew mysteries when I was young, e.g., bungalow, notary public, sedan, and titian.  My librarian buddies didn't know the word titian.  I explained that it's a strawberry-blond color, used to describe Nancy's hair.  I even showed them an example from a Nancy Drew book there on the shelves.  I've never known anyone else described as having titian hair except Nancy Drew.

So, just goes to show that you should stop by your local library.  No telling what kind of useful information you might pick up.

Fried Green 50

The next morning was the annual Fried Green 50, an off-road cycling event in the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge (PWR).  The PWR is one of my favorite places in the world.  Getting to ride my bike there is one of the best things in life.

The Fried Green 50 starts at the boat ramp area next to the Ocmulgee River, just outside downtown Juliette.

This hamlet is the filming location of the eponymous movie Fried Green Tomatoes, one of my favorites.

My friend Monte Marshall and other volunteers with the Ocumulgee Mountain Bike Association put on the Fried Green 50.  This was the 10th year - woo hoo!

Monte with the backwards bike and Matilda, the Fried Green 50 mascot
The Fried Green 50 isn't a race, but it is.  There's a prize for the first male finisher and the first female finisher.  I admit it...I'm a Type A personality, and I have to go for the gusto.

I've been the first female finisher in many years, but not always.  Last year I had some tough competition from a woman named Beth, who is from North Carolina and is about 12 years older than I am.  She beat me last year.  When I heard she was back this year, I thought, uh oh.  However, she found me before the race and informed me that she was going to take it easy this year because she's recovering from a shoulder injury.

It was such a beautiful morning.  Unseasonably warm for November, I was surprised but glad to be comfortable in shorts and a short-sleeved jersey.  It has to be something pretty significant for me to miss regular church on Sunday, but I could tell this would be a glorious day at bike church.

The crowd was the biggest in memory:

Off we went at 10:00 AM.  I edged my way to front.  I had no illusions of hanging with the fastest guys, but I didn't want to get stuck behind non-racers either.  Although the front group did drop me fairly soon, I got into a good, steady pace that I hoped to maintain for 50 miles.

After a few miles, Beth and her husband caught up to me.  Sandbagging maybe?  I played it cool.  My friend John, an excellent ultra runner, also joined us.  The four of us rode together for a while.

The course has some pretty significant hills.  Climbing is my strong suit, and I seemed to be out-climbing the others.  After a while, I dropped the other three.  But would it last?  Beth and her husband never did catch back up, but John did.  I was glad for his company and to be able to work together.

One of my favorite parts of the course is the portion south of Round Oak-Juliette Road.  Although it's within riding distance of my house, I never seem to ride this section except during the Fried Green 50.  Soon after we entered this area, I saw a sign that read "Steep Hill."  I've ridden on this road a half dozen times during the Fried Green 50, but because it's only once a year, I didn't remember the specifics.  The hill was actually steep downward before it became steep upward.  Being rather unfamiliar with it, I took the downhill more aggressively  than I intended.  I think I actually got slightly airborne.

After a mile or so, I overtook another rider.  As I was riding by, he said, "If you're keeping score, there's one woman in front of you."  I replied, "Thanks!  I'll try to catch her."

John and I caught up to Matt, a cycling buddy of mine from Columbus.  Matt had been with the front group.  He said that the woman in front of me had been hanging with them, even taking pulls.  Apparently, she's a pro.  Well.  No way I could compete with that.  Even so, I kept riding as hard as I could.

The route had six creek crossings.  On all but the third one, I was able to ride through without stopping.  I probably could have ridden through that one, too, but I was being careful.

The beauty of the day around me was palpable, yet I was suffering on the bike - a strange juxtaposition.  Then, around mile 35, John and Matt pulled ahead of me.  I suspected that I was experiencing the onset of spaghettification.  I had to ease up a little.  At least it allowed me to enjoy my surroundings better.

When I'm racing the Fried Green 50, I try to carry enough food and water so that I don't have to use the rest stops.  Since I was out of contention, it was definitely worth stopping for water at the last one on the route.  That did a lot to sustain me in the final 10 miles.

I finished well, but I had to agree with Robert's assessment of how much dirt and gravel roads will beat you to death.  An off-road ride is probably an equivalent exertion to 1.5 times the number of miles on paved roads.  But even though I felt tired and pummeled, I was exhilarated!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Deerly Beloved

I live in Jasper County, the Deer Capital of Georgia.  It's particularly obvious this time of year.  When I ride after work in these waning days of Daylight Saving Time, there may be a little sunlight when I start, but it quickly diminishes.  It's the time for crepuscular creatures, like deer.  (Crepuscular is one of my favorite words.  If you don't know what it means, look it up.).  It's magical.

I meant to write about this last week, but I'm super busy with work and other commitments right now.  However, when I had another magical crepuscular ride tonight, I wanted to remember it with a blog entry.

Tonight I didn't count the deer, but I did on last week's mixed surface ride.  Last week I counted 17 deer during my 14-mile ride.  There were probably a lot more that I simply didn't see.

I'm always amazed at how well the deer blend into their surroundings.  Their brownish grey matches tree bark and the deepening dusk alike.  There ought to be a name for that color; I'm sure some paint company has thought of that.

I find myself keeping alert for movement in the shadows.  It's like the cycling version of Where's Waldo.

Deer # 15 and 16 still stand out in my mind from last week.  It was just getting too dark to see.  Those two deer were obscured except for the outlines of their white tails.  As I rode down the road, their tails bobbed along parallel to me like silent phantoms.

Add in a waxing, gibbous moon; the scent of fresh pines; late-season crickets; the gold-then orange-then pink-then purple sunset; and the relative warmth before way-down fall sets in - that's a recipe to cure whatever ails you.