Back in August, when an unexpected IT band injury (which fortunately yet inexplicably disappeared after a few days) forced me to drop out of the Santa Cruz Randonneurs’ Central Coast Randonee (3CR), I dwelled on my DNF in a prolonged self-pitying funk that lasted several weeks.
But that persistent, nagging voice in my brain that prodded me to remember my goal — “2015 Paris-Brest-Paris or bust!” — compelled me to cut short this phase of depressed mourning and take a fast track to acceptance. And perhaps it wasn’t too late to get the 1000k experience I was seeking to acquire before next year. So I began scanning the RUSA calendar and saw that there were still a few events scheduled from late summer through October in Georgia, Texas, Seattle, Florida and North Carolina.
After doing some research and chatting online with various clubs and their members, the upcoming South Florida Randonneurs‘ 1000k with its flattish terrain seemed like a promising candidate. And a fellow San Francisco Randonneurs‘ rider, Charles from Redding, was planning on attending as well (he’d also DNF’ed 3CR and was looking to get a 1000k under his belt by year’s end.)
I signed up, paid my fees, booked my flights and coordinated with Charlie to share a hotel room (the route was designed as a unique clover-leaf shape that returned to one central overnight location.) And after studying the weather forecast, I started stockpiling sleeveless jerseys in anticipation of the impending heat and humidity.
Rando Peer Pressure
But then I heard rumblings of interest from my dear rando friends Jason and Patrick (who had successfully completed 3CR with a 1000k and 1200k respectively) that they were eyeing the possibility of attending the North Carolina Randonneurs‘ Taste of Carolina event. Patrick wanted to earn his RUSA cup and just needed to finish a domestic 1000k, while Jason had several goals, one of which was to get his second cup — but this time he’d achieve this feat while (amazingly) riding all of those miles on a fixed gear bicycle. And ToNC conveniently offered both options so they could travel together. (And thus Patrick could join the ranks of riders drinking beers out of their engraved stainless steel steins at SFR populaires — an informal local tradition — with Jason double-fisting his set of cups. We joked that a special VIP section should be arranged at a separate picnic table cordoned off with a red velvet rope and a bouncer checking RUSA cups for admittance.)
There was also a large contingent of other SFR riders planning to attend — Carl, Clyde, Kevin, Bob L., Barry, Larry, Ken K. and Bradford — so a third of the overall group would be from the Bay Area. Jason and Patrick began to slowly plant the idea that I should join their tentative expedition to the Beautiful South. A series of texts and emails flew back and forth between the three of us about a month prior, but they hadn’t yet confirmed their intentions to go. I didn’t want to go through the hassle and expense of changing my Florida plans so I said, “Well, if both of you definitively commit to going, then I will too.”
Then Jason pulled the trigger — “I just registered online!” and Patrick got his wife’s blessing to take off on another adventure — so the wheels were now in motion for us to head to Huntersville, NC. Patrick also graciously offered to ride at my 12-13mph average pace (which compared to his blazing fast speed is considerably slower; read his blog to see how fast he can go.) But he was content to pedal along in tourist mode as this would be his first trip to this part of the country and wanted to soak in as much local culture as possible.
A volunteer named Paul and his girlfriend met me at the Charlotte airport on Wednesday; the other SFR folks had already arrived the day before. I met up with Patrick at our hotel — we were staying at the Holiday Inn Express next door to the Quality Inn host hotel — and then scooted off to lunch with Jason, Kevin and Bob at a local Thai restaurant. We also made a quick shopping stop at the supermarket to pick up some last-minute drop bag and on-the-bike snacks; Jason’s partial to waffle cookies and Chef Boyardee canned raviolis while I go for savory energy bars (even ones made with meat…)
Upon our return, we found randos milling about the parking lot waiting for the Regional Brevet Administrator to show up. The RBA of the North Carolina Randonneurs, Tony Goodnight, resembles our own SFR head honcho Rob Hawks. With his matching grey mustache, similar age and build, Tony could pass for his distant cousin but equipped with a Southern accent and accompanying mellow demeanor.
After signing in, getting our paperwork, passing bike inspection and taking care of all of our other pre-ride duties, we ate an early dinner as Tony had arranged a welcome BBQ for us. It wasn’t a typical ribs-and-pulled pork Southern affair, but a delicious Vietnamese feast prepared by a friend right on the spot tailgate-style. Patrick and I also had the chance to meet Brian from Atlanta, the only other rider signed up for the 1000k. Judging by his carbon fiber steed and his projected time of arrival, he was aiming to finish quickly. We also marveled at the lively assortment of bicycles assembled for the ride including two Moultons, a Rivendell with mustache bars and front basket and even a sporty red velomobile from Canada that arrived via camper.
click images to enlarge
We headed off to bed shortly thereafter as the alarm would be sounding off early for a 4am start. (Although with our body clocks set to California time, Patrick and I weren’t able to finally fall asleep until around 10.)
All Aboard the SFR Train to Polkville
29 of us gathered together in front of the Quality Inn, wishing each other well as we fidgeted like nervous racehorses before the starting gun fires off at the gate. We received a brief good luck speech from Tony before we rolled away into the dark foggy hours of dawn.
The first 54-mile leg of the ride was a hazy blur as the bright stretch of strip malls receded into the background and we navigated our way to the dimly lit back roads that led towards our first control. The two or three ride leaders sped off into the distance, followed by about 12 of us clumped together in a steady pack as we rode the gently rolling roads to Polkville.
It was hard reading the street signs in the grey shadows of the sleepy neighborhoods, but our group was well-armed with Garmins that beeped affirmatively as we weaved our way through the matrix of turns outlined on our cue sheet. But one missed turn separated our pack and a group of us six Bay Area folks — Barry, Larry, Carl, Jason, Patrick and myself — broke off into our own little crew.
The rollers gradually grew steeper in some sections, but our fresh legs and the Barry, Larry and Carl train (yes, I told them they sounded like characters in a sitcom) helped pull us to the gas station control in no time. Jason and Patrick followed my lead and chowed down on biscuits for a surprisingly tasty second breakfast, although I ordered mine plain and they went for theirs smothered in a rich sausage gravy.
Chugging Along to Chimney Rock
As we rode through the lush green farmlands of North Carolina, our next formal stop was in the small tourist village of Chimney Rock, located 42.5 miles away. The sun finally poked through the clouds and we hit a steady climb that led to beautiful views of Lake Lure and the jagged cliffs of Chimney Rock in the distance.
One volunteer, Terry, was stationed at a small table with a van parked on the side of the road. He signed our brevet cards and we eagerly dove into his supply of crackers, cookies and cold drinks. (An added bonus: he had a big jug of pink lemonade which I gladly used to fill up one of my water bottles.)
No one, except for me, seemed ready to stop for an early lunch although we had ridden nearly 100 miles before noon. We knew we had more climbing ahead of us (and mistook it for the one big 3100 ft. climb of the ride, but that would come later on), so they didn’t want to push forward with full bellies.
I was starving, however, and while Carl and Patrick were both dealing with sore knees and riding at a more moderate pace for them, it was still a challenge for me to keep up with these speedsters — so I was craving some solid calories (Carl and Larry were on the liquid diet of Perpetuem for fuel.) I said I’d just grab a quick bite at the coffeehouse-antique shop across the street, but Patrick, Jason and Barry also decided to get some pastries and coffee for a much-needed 20-minute break. More randos arrived behind us as we took off for a short bathroom pit stop before hitting the road again.
Lost and Found
The next climb splintered our group into two as I fell behind with Larry and one rando from Pennsylvania. Then I proceeded to forge on ahead and found myself alone in a quaint area with whimsical street names that could double as cool names for bands (‘Grandma’s Gang’ was my favorite.)
I reached a junction where there was no street sign; the cue sheet warned me of this, but I still doubted whether I should go left as instructed as I was a little wary of taking an unmarked turn in unfamiliar territory.
A sheriff happened to be parked on the corner and I asked, “Which way is Laycock?” He pointed to the right and so I ventured down the road until I hit a T-intersection. Then I knew I was definitely off course as this wasn’t next on the list.
Sans Garmin, I pulled out my iPhone and launched the ‘Find My Friends’ app to find Patrick and Jason’s location. (I’d suggested to them earlier that we add each other to our accounts so we could track each others’ whereabouts.) I could see that they were only a few miles ahead but south of where I’d stopped. I called Patrick to get some guidance and he confirmed I should have gone that other way.
So I doubled back, hoping to catch back up, but Patrick kindly decided to turn around to meet up with me so we reunited shortly thereafter.
(This was the last I’d see of the BLC-Jason posse, who stuck together until Day Four.)
All Hail Caesar’s Head
My energy was flagging so we stopped at a local grocery store for pastries, water and a 15-minute “let’s-sit-down-in-a-chair-instead-of-a-saddle” break. Shortly thereafter, we crossed the state border as our scenic 44-mile leg passed through woodsy areas with trees in the early stages of displaying their festive fall colors (rarely seen in the Bay Area.) We caught a quick glimpse of the historic home of poet Carl Sandburg as we climbed upwards to Caesar’s Head State Park.
It was a gentle climb that led to a beautiful panoramic overlook of verdant green mountains; a perfect spot to eat ice cream (Patrick) and potato chips (me). Other randos trickled in and we bid them farewell before careening down the fun, switchbacky descent.
Or Order ‘Em “All the Way”
It was 42.8 miles to Anderson, but we decided that it was time for a proper meal stop since we’d only been grazing all day on snacks. Patrick had already been briefed by me and several others on the cheap and greasy charms of Waffle House, the ubiquitous 24-hour diner chain found throughout the South. (I was familiar with “scattered, covered and smothered” and other signature Waffle House-isms having eaten there during my high school years when I lived in Chattanooga, TN.) We filled up on more biscuits (with bacon and eggs!) to power us through to our next control. We encountered Andy from England, one of the 1200k’ers riding astride a Moulton, as we pedaled forth to our sleep control. Our ‘breakfast for dinner’ certainly had done its job well as we politely declined the Subway sandwiches and pizza offered to us by Terry in the hotel parking lot at Anderson.
Thunder and Lightning
En route to Greenwood, ominous-looking clouds were looming in the distance, and lightning began to flash in the sky about midway through our 46.5 mile journey to the hotel.
With the severe drought conditions ongoing in California, Patrick and I were actually a little thrilled at the notion of rain. It’d been hot and humid all day, so the first raindrops felt cool and refreshing on our salty, sweaty skin. But then the thunder began to grow louder, and suddenly a heavy downpour burst forth from the thick clouds. The biblical-esque storm grew stronger and dumped on us for the last 20-or miles to Greenwood. (I personally claim responsibility for this onslaught of rain as I had left my rain jacket in my drop bag. And it was still quite warm, so I remained comfortable pedaling in just my sleeveless jersey and reflective vest much to Patrick’s amazement.)
Drenched to the bone by the time we arrived around 10:30pm (delayed slightly by a quick detour to the wrong hotel), we were certainly cured of our brief romance with the rain. (My leather gloves never really dried out over the next few days and emitted a stink that was foul beyond belief. They’re now on their way to the garbage dump; may they rest in peace. And the horrid smell emitting from our soggy clothes that festered in our drop bags all weekend was absolutely disgusting. I would have burned that sorry pile of clothing if they weren’t so expensive!)
We were greeted by Tom again (he had checked us in at Caesar’s Head) and he offered Patrick and I some sandwiches and other goodies (thank goodness we wouldn’t have to go back out in that nasty weather to forage for food. We later learned via text that Jason and the BLC crew had moved fast enough to escape the bulk of the rain, the lucky bastards.)
After a hot shower and getting prepped for tomorrow, we had banked enough time to sleep several blissful hours and set out at 5am the following day.
Read about Day 2.