Here Comes the Rain Again
I felt decently well-rested after five hours’ sleep, and we were ready to go after a breakfast of instant oatmeal made with the help of our hotel room’s microwave.We bumped into a group of North Carolina Randonneurs as we rolled out bikes out of our room. I recognized Ian, who’d been riding not too far behind us with his friends all day yesterday, and he invited us to join them on the road. (He recognized me from my blog posts that I’d submit to the /r/randonneuring on reddit. “Hey, you’re Plattyjo, right?”)
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They were still waiting on one of the folks in their group so we decided to go ahead and take off, especially since we needed to buy more batteries for Patrick’s rear taillight.
A light drizzle began to fall again as we stopped at a nearby gas station, but this time we had our rain jackets at the ready in case it got worse. The NC Randos had now caught up to us, so we tagged along behind them for the next 52.7 miles to Augusta, Georgia.
Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’, Keep Those Rollers Rollin’
We moseyed along at a leisurely pace until the rain started to change from a pleasant sprinkling to a full-on torrential downpour.
“Hey Ian!” yelled Robert in a commanding Southern drawl to his friend that was leading the pack.
“What?” he called back with a tinge of a annoyance that sounded like a henpecked husband.
“I think we should stop to put on our jackets!”
Ian wanted to push on a little further so we plodded on.
A few minutes later, the rain continued to come down more forcefully.
“Hey Ian!” said Robert a little more urgently.
“We gotta stop now!”
We all pulled over to the side of the road and scrambled to grab our jackets out of our bags. Patrick remarked, “Now I see why most of them have fenders,” and I guilty looked down at our exposed tires.
Of course, 10 minutes later, the rain disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
“I’m soooo glad we stopped to put on our jackets,” Ian jokingly grumbled. “I’m so dang sweaty now.”
“I know, I feel like I’ve turned into a terrarium.” I replied with a laugh.
The funny, teasing banter between Robert and Ian continued throughout the day, and we were treated to an ongoing comedy routine with their priceless exchanges.
“I gotta pee!”
We all stop again to take a short nature break and I take the opportunity to peel off my rain jacket and shove more food in my mouth.
I didn’t realize how trashed my legs felt until our group starting picking up speed and traveled along a section of rollers at a decent clip. Jason later described the 233 miles we’d traversed yesterday as “death by rollers”; I also commiserated with Kevin about how deceptively difficult they were as we met up him on this leg. “I didn’t plan for those,” he said, as the elevation profile of the ride didn’t give the impression that they’d be so challenging. (Plus moving at the B-L-C train’s pace sapped a lot of energy from my reserves.)
And unlike the rollers in Marin like along Hwy. 1, these were a little too steep to maintain a constant speed. As soon as you hit a descent, you’d have to spin pretty hard or get out of the saddle to power up to the top. It was a relentless series of intervals that were incredibly draining. I began to have a Pavlovian reaction of dread to the signs that said, “Bridge Ices Before a Road” as I knew we’d be dropping down just above a river or creek bed before shooting back upwards for a heart-pounding workout.
Ian slowed down the pace a bit and I regretted not eating more for breakfast. I was getting slower and trying to hang on as best as I could. I eased up and moved behind Joel, one rider who was having bad knee troubles and was also lagging towards the back. But the NC Randos were kind enough to wait for me at the next major turn, but we regrouped without Joel who had dropped even further away from us.
As we continued on towards Augusta, I peppered Ian with questions about his beautifully crafted Moulton and its unique suspension frame. Ian knew a lot about its history and how it broke speed records before they were outlawed by UCI in road races. And note: it’s not a folding bike, but it does collapse in size due to its couplers.
With his wild curly hair, wooly beard and tie-dyed jersey that proclaimed his allegiance to the La Société Adrian Hands, Ian was the hilarious ringleader of the NC Randonneurs. He was always cracking jokes, telling stories or singing, and his enthusiasm was absolutely infectious and helped to boost morale during any long, boring stretches of the ride. (One of my favorite observations was when he said, “You ever notice how you never see empty bottles of good beer on the side of the road, it’s always the shitty empties from crappy beer?”)
And just as I was taking a photo of the group as we crossed the 250-mile mark of our ride, he gleefully whooped, “Hoooooo! I just got my K-Hound!” (That’s the award that’s bestowed onto randos who’ve ridden 10,000 credited RUSA miles in one year. He’d just ridden the Natchez Trace 1500k 12 days earlier, which certainly helped.)
He took out his Contour camera and documented the historic moment, and shot footage of us smiling at his success. (He’d continue to film throughout the day, adding in narration to describe the action.)
We made quick work of the remaining 25 miles, and our conversation helped the time pass more quickly. Robert said to me, “Jenny, you should chat with Miss Mary. Ask her about her biking and let her brag about herself some.”
“60? How old are you, Mary?” I asked incredulously.
“65,” she replied.
“I never would have guessed that – you look at least 10 years younger.”
“Oh, my — I think you’re my new best friend,” she replied cordially.
And Mary’s just started mountain biking and won the local series by podiuming at every race. She spoke highly of one of her main competitors, an 11-year old prodigy who showed future promise as a pro. (It would be rather awesome to see two racers at opposite ends of the age spectrum battling it out on a ‘cross course.)
Robert, an energetic bespectacled gentleman with plenty of Southern charm (Ian made some mock jealousy jokes about how his wife is one of Robert’s biggest fans), also shared some stories of his own. He’d been to Paris-Brest-Paris three years ago but had to DNF at the 1000k point.
“It was so disappointing but now I’ve got a bone to pick with that ride,” He was planning on making another attempt in 2015 and I have no doubt he’ll finish the second time around.
When we reached the strip mall in Augusta, the oasis of fast food restaurants was a welcome sight.
“Where do y’all wanna eat?” Ian asked the group, before turning to me and Patrick. “We’ll let the foreigners decide,” he said with a smile. He was leaning towards Subway but I wasn’t sick of biscuits quite yet and steered us towards Bojangles.
Mary had talked up the Boo-Berry biscuits smothered in frosting and gave me a generous sample of her breakfast. I was pretty satisfied with my egg biscuit, fried “Botato rounds” and a big glass of orange juice. Joel and another NC Rando materialized at this point, but they were both having a tough time on the bike. He joined us while Joel wanted to extend his break a little longer.
More rollers lay in our path after our second breakfast at mile 282.6, and I was desperately hoping that all of that sugar and starch would hurry up and kick in. But I began to fade again and Ian drifted away from the others to reel me back in to the group.
“Jenny, let me tell you about STFD. It means, ‘Slow. The. Fuck. Down.’ We say it when we need to and I was giving Robert shit the other night because he asked, ‘Do you mind if we slow down a bit?’ I couldn’t believe it. You don’t ask like that, you yell, “Slow The Fuck Down!” So don’t be afraid to play that card.”
“Well, I think I’m carrying a full deck of them right now so I’ll try not to play them all at once!”
Ian also recounted the words of a mutual rando acquaintance named Vinny who once shared some wise words of wisdom with him. “If you’re feeling good on a ride, don’t worry — you’ll feel worse soon enough. And if you’re feeling bad, don’t worry –because it will pass eventually. Now why didn’t I think of that?”
And it was true; the chances of hitting at least one low point during a brevet were pretty good given the long hours spent in the saddle. But with some food, rest and encouragement, you could recover from your bonk, exhaustion or frustration. And with that boost of support, I rallied to rejoin the group with more energy.
The new rando who had hopped on our train had fallen back, so it was now Ian, Robert, Mary, another friendly North Carolinian named Bill, Patrick and myself in the group. But our crew fragmented again when Bill stopped to deal with another flat and Robert had to fix his Carradice saddle bag that was dangling askew off to one side. Then we all spread out as we summited one long hill in the early afternoon heat, then took a break at a gas station to get some cold drinks and wait for Robert and Bill. Patrick declared it “beer o’clock” and popped open a tall can of Tecate. Kevin and Bob arrived and joined our little concrete picnic. The Rivendell rider (who hailed from Ohio) also pulled in and soon we had quite a crowd when Robert showed up. There was no sign of Bill, however, and we continued on without him. Just before five of us took off, Ian had grabbed his helmet out of the freezer where he’d stashed it with bags of ice; I filed away a mental note of this smart strategy as I’m sure it’d come in handy later on in the heat.
Keep On Truckin’
A 26-mile stretch of a shoulderless two-lane road wound up and down past forests and pastures. Patrick took a little break from the pavement and got some cyclocross action on an adjacent patch of grass. Ian kept us entertained with his constant joshing which was only interrupted by an irate trucker who leaned on his horn for a solid minute since he was pissed that we were “in his way.”
“Get off the road!” he yelled at me out his window.
“Fuck you, you shithead!” I yelled back. (I’m not always gracious with assholes I encounter on the road.)
Ian’s response was to burst loudly into the “Sorry About Your Penis” song by Smash Mouth (check out the lyrics, they’re pretty on point to the situation.)
“Where on Earth do you learn this stuff?” wondered Robert with bemusement.
Georgia On My Mind
The warm sun kept beating down on us; I was just wearing my base layer and vest at this point as we kept pedaling on what seemed like a never-ending road.
We were all running low on water, and Ian had a hunch we might find some at one of the numerous churches we passed along the way. A beautiful magnolia tree with Spanish moss hanging from its branches provided shade while we took turns using the spigot on the side of the building (although Robert and I opted to pass as we were skeptical of the brown color of the water.)
My mojo began to wane again at the 330-mile point, and the North Carolina trio began to fade away further into the horizon.
But they waited for Patrick and me at the turn off onto another interminably long 18-mile state highway with headwinds. But we crossed over the Georgia state border and soon after, we saw the glorious sign for the welcome center up ahead.
We reveled in the cool confines of the air-conditioned room, and the friendly woman behind the desk asked if we wanted any soda — FREE soda! Well, don’t mind if we do! Several samples later, we enjoyed our sugar high and lounged in the chairs while swatting away the pesky gnats that had also snuck indoors. Our swift 1000k comrade, Brian, poked his head into the center for a moment; he was already heading back to Huntersville. “I wondered if I’d see y’all on the road!” He looked as fresh as he did on Day One, even though he’d already ridden over 400 miles at that point.
Well, it was time to leave paradise and so we refilled our water bottles and used the bathrooms (ah, even they had air-conditioning) before setting on towards Sylvania. The rest of this section was rather uneventful, except for the moment when a semi-truck flew past and BOOM! One of its rear tires had exploded and debris was everywhere. We were lucky that it didn’t happen right next to us as no doubt that would have been really dangerous. The truck proceeded on as if nothing had happened, oddly enough, and we carefully rode the last 20 miles to town.
So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehn, Goodbye
Sylvania was an open control, so we could choose to go wherever we wanted for dinner. Patrick and I thought we’d try Huddle House, but we wanted to say goodbye to our wonderful new NC Rando friends first.This was where Patrick and I would split off from the 1200k riders — who would continue south towards Savannah — and we’d turn around back to Huntersville.
They had made a beeline to a Mexican restaurant which sounded really appealing right then, so we headed there, too. Three other randos — including Pennsylvania rando — were already sitting in a booth and finishing up dinner when we sat down to order. While not quite up to California standards (West Coast Mexican food snob right here), my breakfast burrito with a side of rice really hit the spot.
After dinner, we were quite sad to see them peel away one by one in the parking lot. I hope our paths cross again on future rides!
And Then There Were Two at the Turnaround
Patrick and I now had to backtrack some of our route to our sleep control in Barnwell, but Brian had assured us it’d be a lot easier this way with the tailwinds in our favor. We spotted the last of the 1200k folks heading towards Sylvania and waved in solidarity as they passed by. And after admiring the endless fields of cotton we’d cruised past in the other direction, we stopped to pick some of the fluffy balls (it’s as soft as you’d imagine it would be) and admired the radiant pink-and-blue sunset as we continued north.
Visited by the RBA Angel of Cold Drinks
The Georgia Welcome Center was closed by the time we encountered it again, so we were a little concerned about where we’d get water on this deserted section that had no services. As we pedaled in the darkness brainstorming about where to go, Tony happened to pull up alongside us in his white van as he was headed to pick up a DNF’ed rider in Sylvania. He had all sorts of drinkable treats in the back, including more pink lemonade — “I knew I bought that for a reason,” he said with a chuckle — and Patrick’s go-to drink, Mello Yello (which apparently he’d been dreaming about for several miles.)
Revived and refreshed, we continued our merry way towards Barnwell, although Patrick’s left knee was really bothering him. He’d had issues with pain from his previous 600k and they seemed to carry over into the beginning of this ride. Now the cleat wasn’t staying clipped into the pedal and we stopped so he could try and do some MacGuyver-like fixes to get us through the remaining miles. (It turns out that the cleat was just worn out and needed to be replaced; once he was able to realign it properly, his knee pain disappeared for the rest of the weekend.)
Bedtime in Barnwell
We sure were ready for some sleep after 190 miles of riding! The nighttime clerk gave us our key and Tony had left us a note giving us instructions regarding our drop bags. Plus he’d left behind more snacks and water, too. Patrick thought we’d be fine with another 4AM-ish wake-up time so we could grab breakfast at Huddle House and be on the road by 5AM. I was a little nervous about making the next control by 10:40am (it was 69 miles away), but he felt confident I could push myself to go 13.5 mph the next day. My legs weren’t so sure, but there was no time to fret — it was time to pass out.