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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Middle Georgia Epic 2018

The 2018 Middle Georgia Epic did, indeed, loom epic in my mind as it approached.  Last year I had a great race and a great time, but it took a whole lot out of me.  I've ridden lots since then, but it's mostly just been time on the bike.  Because I've had a good bit of work stress in the past year from a job change, I haven't done as much focused training in recent months.  Therefore, I didn't have the same effort in me for this year's Middle Georgia Epic.  I decided simply to ride the best I could.  But isn't that all any of us can ever do?

On top of my usual nervousness before a big event, I went into the race fairly fatigued.  The day before, I had helped with the Atlanta Metro chapter MATHCOUNTS competition.  MATHCOUNTS is a nationwide middle school math competition program that I have volunteered with for years.  I'm the state coordinator.  The Atlanta Metro chapter has a new coordinator this year, and I didn't want to simply throw her to the sharks, especially considering that hers is the biggest chapter competition in the country!  It went very well, but anything involving 300+ middle school students is an exercise in controlled chaos.  I had a couple of long days helping prepare for and executing the competition, and then it took me three hours to get home Friday evening due to extra heavy Atlanta traffic.  So, already stressed and revved up on adrenaline, I suppose I did well to get almost seven hours of sleep before the race.

In the morning I made the hourlong drive to the Blue Goose, a fantastic bike hostel in Irwinton, GA where the Middle Georgia Epic was staged.

The Blue Goose now has a blue goose!
Temperatures were forecast to range from the upper 50s to mid 70s throughout the day, and after some seesawing, the chance of rain settled in at 20% - it doesn't get much better for February racing.  I didn't envy Robert, who opted for a road race in Greenville, SC, where it was raining with temperatures in the 40s.

I'm used to packing for long rides as compactly as possible, but still I was amazed at how few supplies I needed: my Garmin with the route uploaded, two large bottles of water mixed with Skratch Labs powder, and four Clif Bars.  I stuck the unwrapped Clif Bars directly into my jersey pockets to minimize hassle during the race.  I planned to stop only once, at the mandatory SAG halfway through the race, where I could refill my bottles.  After checking in at registration, I was ready to race!

I enjoyed seeing teammates, rando buddies, and various cycling friends from Atlanta, Milledgeville, and Warner Robins.  As we gathered at the starting line, my friend Jean gave me a big hug and said that she was doing the 100K.  Whew!  I had figured she would be some of my biggest competition in the 200K.  But Anne was back.  She beat me last year.  She had also done a 12-hour race the previous weekend, and so I thought she might be even more formidable at this year's Middle Georgia Epic.  Oh, well - I reminded myself that I was there to do my best, and at the very least, I would have a fun day on the bike.

We got our first taste of dirt about two miles into the course.  The fastest guys pulled ahead very quickly, just as I anticipated.  I rode at tempo, knowing that I shouldn't go too hard too early.  It was going to be a long day.

The first little stretch of dirt didn't last long before we had another couple of miles of pavement.  Several other riders and I started clumping together; maybe I wouldn't have to ride by myself all day after all.  My cyclocross bike felt good under me, particularly with its brand-new chain, but something was making a creaking noise on every pedal stroke.  I was embarrassed that it was likely annoying the other riders around me.  I jiggled my shifters and brake levers, hoping to make the creaking stop.  It didn't. hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!  It was just like The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe.

Eventually, the creaking did subside.  By the way, today before I wrote this race report, I pulled this out to reread The Tell-Tale Heart:

I found this gorgeous volume at a used book sale several years ago.  The pages are edged in gold, and it's in mint condition.  Quite a find for the approximately $2 I spent on it!  Anyway, back to the race...

We were approaching what I knew would be the most challenging section of the race - six miles of heavily rutted dirt roads that are difficult even when it hasn't rained.  As I turned off of the pavement, my riding companions continued straight.  They didn't know about this short cut-through road, even though it was on the official route.  I didn't have any illusions of staying ahead of them (including Anne!) for the whole race, but I didn't mind being on my own as I made my way through the tough section.

My friend Benny took some great photos of the route.  This one shows some of the most technical part:

Dan Rather helped me get through this section.  I'm not kidding!  Recently I read his book What Unites Us, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  One chapter is entitled "Steady," which is one of his favorite words.  When he was a boy, Rather had rheumatic fever.  His father comforted and encouraged him during the long recovery with the single word "steady."  Rather also describes the reassuring steadiness of various U.S. and other world leaders during war and other troubled times.

I already knew that a steady pace is necessary to successfully complete an epic-length ride or race.  "Steady" also helped me here to keep calm and ride on.  Some of the muddy ruts on the racecourse were like mountain bike single-track.  I'm not a very good technical rider, but I had to pick a line and go with it.  I found that the key was to keep my momentum and to ride...steady.

I made it through the mud and got back to the pavement.  I was approaching the end of the lollipop stick to make a big loop southward.  See you again this afternoon, super-duper muddy section!

Shortly after I started the clockwise loop, here came my friend Jake - on his road bike!  I had passed him on the muddy section when he was changing a flat.  Jake is an excellent rider, but the unpaved sections proved too much for his choice of bicycle.  I didn't get to draft off of him for very long before he got another flat.  I would have been glad to give him one of my spare tubes, but the ones I use on my cyclocross bike are too big for skinny road bike tires.

Because the Middle Georgia Epic is about 75% on unpaved roads (including hard-packed dirt, loose sand, gravel, and of course mud) and 25% on paved roads (some good quality and some shake-and-bake), one tricky thing is selecting your type of bicycle.  Do you ride a mountain bike?  That gives you the most wheel clearance and, thus, the best chance of getting through the muddy sections as quickly as possible.  However, a mountain bike is a lot slower on pavement.  A road bike is faster on pavement but much more prone to flatting off-road, as Jake experienced.  For me, a cyclocross bike is the best choice because it pretty much splits the difference on advantages and disadvantages.

A group of six or eight riders caught up to me, including my friend Andrew, Anne and her husband, another woman, and a few other guys.  We had significant paved sections for a while.  We started a rotating pace line, the perfect way to simultaneously maximize speed and conserve energy.  It struck me how the Middle Georgia Epic encourages skills across several cycling sub-disciplines, from mountain biking to road riding.  Nevertheless, it quickly became apparent that several in my group were not roadies because they didn't know how to execute a rotating paceline.  They would surge as they got toward the front and then not fade back.  Still, I've seen worse rotating pace lines.

The woman I didn't know introduced herself as Kay.  She was so friendly, saying how good it was to see other women cyclists doing an event like this.  I totally agree.  She was riding very strong, and I could quickly discern that she was a force to be reckoned with for the day.  Even more impressively, she told me that this was her first gravel/off-road race.  I told her that she picked quite a challenging event for her first one!  Kay said we should cross the finish line holding hands.  I just laughed.  I'm pretty Kum Ba Yah otherwise, but when it comes to games and sports - Trivia Night, cycling, etc. - I want to dominate!  If Kay and I were still together at the end, I knew I would ride as fast across the finish line as my tired bones would allow.  (Foreshadowing alert...)

A few miles before Eastman, we had a slight detour.  We were supposed to cut through on a dirt road between two main paved roads, but we couldn't get through.  While in transit, a double-wide had managed to get stuck on the dirt road, blocking the entire path.  The driver advised us to go back to the main, paved road and take the next right, putting us back on course.  He sure did look stuck.  As hard as our day might have been, I believe he was having a harder one.

We checked in as required at the SAG stop in Eastman, approximately halfway through.  I was surprised that I didn't have to go to the bathroom; I would have to guard against getting too dehydrated.  I ate a few bites of Clif Bar and nearly gagged.  Then, when my riding companions started eating bagels spread with peanut butter and bacon, my stomach really turned.  Normally, I would totally understand such an odd combination of ingredients, but I was uncharacteristically not hungry mid-race.

One guy hung back to have a mechanic look at his bike, and a few others we had been riding with had dropped off a little while before the SAG stop.  Therefore, only Kay, two guys, and I continued on together.  

A few miles before the stop, my eyes had started hurting from some dirt that got in them.  It was difficult to see.  I tried to let my eyes water, which often does the trick in the middle of a ride like this.  It wasn't working this time.  When we got back on the road after the SAG, my eyes felt worse than ever.  I finally had to stop to rinse them out, letting the others continue.  I knew that I probably would never catch up to Kay, but I had to alleviate the pain in my eyes.

A simple rinse didn't help the first and second times.  Finally, I had to take my contacts out, storing them in one of my bottles with a little water still in it.  (I've had to come up with solutions to problems on the bike before, but this was a first!)  I put that bottle on the less accessible back bottle cage and decided to drink only out of my front bottle the rest of the day.  After taking out my contacts, I obviously still couldn't see well, but at least I wasn't in pain anymore.

It was a unique experience to continue riding without my contacts.  Fortunately, most of the roads, even the unpaved ones, weren't too big a challenge.  I took in the beautiful sights in a rather dreamlike state on the warmish February afternoon.  The sun shone blue-grey behind partly cloudy skies.  Black Angus cows grazed in fields of rye.  Even though their forms were indistinct, I still marveled at the lovely black and green contrast.

Allentown was just past 100 miles.  I needed some more water and figured I could find a church with a spigot.  Sure enough, there's a large church in downtown Allentown - no outdoor spigot, though.  I didn't have any better luck at the fire station around the corner.  Danville is only about a mile farther.  The third time was the charm; I found a church in Danville with a spigot.  (I was glad for the hose that made the spigot easier for me to spot in my semi-blind state.)  The water wasn't exactly clear, but beggars can't be choosers.

I had about 20 miles to go.  Those were the toughest.  I had felt OK up until then, but fatigue began to set in.  My mind was messing with me.  Had I lollygagged too much?  I started looking over my shoulder, expecting to see Anne coming up behind me.  I tried to pick up my seemingly molasses pace.

As I approached the lollipop stick of the route again, I mentally braced for my second bout with the super-duper muddy section, this time with reduced vision.  My biggest priority was safety.  I took the downhills slowly, and I did my best to pick a good line through the difficult sections (steady...).  I emerged safely again and put my head down for the last six miles.

Several miles of pavement, the last bit of dirt, and the final few paved miles through downtown Irwinton.  I turned into the Blue Goose and crossed the finish line!

I heard several people cheer, but I was so spent that I could barely acknowledge their support.  It took me about 15 minutes to change clothes, retrieve my contacts from my water bottle, and get a plate of delicious pasta and salad that the Blue Goose had prepared for the racers.  I plopped down on the patio next to some other racers and felt like I wouldn't move for quite a while.

Kay had finished about 25 minutes ahead of me, and I learned that Anne had DNFed shortly before the SAG stop in Eastman.  That was it for the women in the 40+ category for the 200K.  I forget that we're rather rare birds:

When I got home, I had a restorative shower and made some popcorn for Robert and me to eat while we watched Star Trek.  (I'm embarrassed to say that I've never seen the original TV series before, but Robert is getting me up-to-speed.)  I went to bed early and got a good night's sleep.

This morning I felt rested yet fatigued - that unique sensation after a hard cycling exertion.  The Middle Georgia Epic was tough but fun.  That seems to describe so many of my most memorable bicycle adventures.  It's also a pretty good description of life in general.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

West Side Ramble 200K Permanent (a.k.a. The Starkers Ride)

Beau, Georgia's official weather prognosticator, predicted six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day a few days ago.

I was sad but not surprised about Beau's prediction.  We've had a colder than usual winter.  Yesterday's West Side Ramble 200K permanent was yet another cold ride of this long winter.  However, the camaraderie was warm.  I got to ride with some of my best rando buddies: Andrew, Brian, Dick, Ian, Julie, and Wayne.

A brevet is scheduled for the 24th of this month, but because of a work commitment, I won't be able to do that ride.  So, I was glad when others started asking about doing a permanent yesterday.  After a fair amount of discussion, we settled on the route, the West Side Ramble.  It starts in Stockbridge and makes a counterclockwise loop to the southwest.

When I got to the Kroger parking lot in Stockbridge, our starting point, I was pleased to meet Charlie, a randonneur I didn't know.  He was leaving at the same time as the rest of us but doing a populaire (100K ride).  He's from California and has a goal of riding a populaire in every state.  Georgia is his first one east of the Mississippi River.  Bonne route, Charlie!

We seven doing the permanent began at 8:00 AM, a rather late start time among our Audax Atlanta group.  I wasn't complaining, though; it allowed me to get up at a slightly less uncivilized hour than I do for most of my randonnees.  On the other hand, it was also about the coldest part of the day.  It was only about 30 degrees when we started.  However, the forecast called for a high of 50 and sunshine.

Several times early in the ride, we saw beautiful murmurations of starlings.  Starlings are a non-native, invasive species, but they still look glorious in their shimmering waves of flight.  Isn't murmuration a cool word?  Ian and I thought it might be the word of the day.  However, the word of the day turned out to be much less dignified...

Our first control was in Senoia, a small town that recently has gained renown as the filming location of The Walking Dead.  I've never seen an episode, but it was still interesting to see the gated off section of town where the apocalyptic scenes are staged.

We went to Crook's Hit-n-Run, an unfortunate name for a control:

As we sat on the curb in front of the store having some refreshment, we chatted among ourselves.  Someone asked me if I had brought my usual sardines.  Why, yes, I had.  They are a great protein source on long rides, but I was saving them for later.

My sardines reminded Andrew of a story.  Several years ago he and his wife were on vacation in Spain.  He really wanted to get some grilled sardines, supposedly a local specialty.  However, they had a hard time finding a restaurant that served them.  After an Internet search on their phones, they finally found one restaurant that had grilled sardines.  There was only one way to get to the restaurant, though: through a nude beach.  So, we all laughed as Andrew described having to get his grilled sardines by walking through all these people who were starkers.  Isn't "starkers" a great word?  Andrew and Ian are both originally from England.  Sometimes they use the most marvelous British English words.

Several others also had nude beach stories.  It seems they all were presented with opportunities to partake but declined.  They also commented that a lot of people who do partake would be better off keeping their clothes on.

I have a sort-of experience in this genre.  When I was about 14, my family took one of its usual vacations, probably to see my grandmother.  While we were gone, our neighbors got our mail and kept an eye on the house.  When we got back, Mr. Neighbor asked my mother where we had gone.  She told him we went to a nudist camp.  When she later told me about her joke, I was mortified!  Of course, just about everything mortified me when I was that age.  By the way, when my mother told Mr. Neighbor about the nudist camp, he said, "You know, I've always wanted to go to one of those."

Thus, "starkers" became our word of the day.

It turned out to be a fortuitous choice.  Because Wayne is the route owner of the the West Side Ramble, he is familiar with the roads and a few nearby points of interest.  He asked if we wanted to ride about an extra mile so that we could see Barbie Beach.  Well, of course!

Barbie Beach is in Turin, GA.  Coincidentally, the Barbies are all starkers.  To the far left in the picture is the Egyptian god Set.  We thought it might be Osiris, but after I did a little research later, I discovered that it's actually Set, Osiris's brother.  Set appears to be the bouncer at Mort's Bar.  By the way, the drink special at Mort's Bar is Sex on the Beach.

The owners of Barbie Beach graciously set out a Ziploc bag full of information sheets about Barbie Beach.  I took one to read later:

Any locals who don't like Barbie Beach are just totally un-fun.  I am a little confused, though; the 2006 Turin Olympics was a winter Olympics.  Beach volleyball is a summer Olympics sport.  Whatever - that doesn't detract from the kitschy coolness of Barbie Beach.

Tour guide Wayne pointed out another oddity along the route.  Near the square in Greenville, GA is a house that used to be a jail.  We didn't stop for a picture, but it's pretty interesting.  It even has bars over some of the windows.  And if you'd like to have it for your very own, you're in luck - it's for sale!

Over the next few miles, Brian started feeling pretty badly.  He's usually about the strongest rider in the group, but he told us not to wait for him.  Several people in his office have been sick, and so maybe he picked up their germs.  That's rough.  A 200K is hard enough when you're feeling well.  I'm sorry he had to struggle through the rest of the ride, and I hope he's feeling better.

We got back comfortably before sunset.  Also, Brian rolled in just a few minutes after the rest of us - yea!

Even though it's missing a few letters, it's ironic that I drover through here on my way home:

When I got I home, I took a nice, warm shower and then started cooking dinner for Robert and me.  He put on some music as he always does in the evenings.  Usually, I don't have a particular request - whatever he picks usually suits me quite well - but last night I did have one: Barenaked Ladies.  Or, for the time being, Starkers Ladies.  I enjoy old and new music of many types.  I had heard of Barenaked Ladies but had never listened to them.  I like their music!  So, as a bonus after a thoroughly enjoyable ride, I discovered a great new-to-me rock group.

I'll be glad when the weather is more conducive to going starkers.  In the meantime, I'll still ride on!