thursday night's ride
I don't usually get to do the Thursday night ride. My work schedule calls for me to be at the library until 6:00 on that night, and 6:00 is when the ride starts. But I figured it was worth using an hour of annual leave to do the first Callaham Challenge of the season, so I filled out the leave slip and headed out the door at 5:00.
Ana had fixed me a couple of peanut-butter-and-raisin-on-pita sandwiches to take with me on the ride. I'd prepped Stripe the night before with some chain lube, adjusting the indexed shifting until the chain moved smartly from cog to cog. There were two full bottles cooling in the party fridge in the garage, clean shorts and jersey and cycling socks laid out - I was ready.
When I got to the parking lot, I saw Speedy Young Zac's car with an empty rack and deduced he had already headed out for a warm-up. Big Ring Jim Cox showed up, then John Lake and others began filtering in. We teased Jim about it being his last ride as a single man - he was marrying his long-time sweetie Jackie on Friday.
I thought about the pace Sunday and made my decision. "I'm going to head out early," I told John. "You guys can catch up with me in a little while, but this will hopefully let me warm up at my own pace."
"Okay, let's meet up where Stevenson Road comes in," John said. I agreed and headed out onto Old Abbeville Highway. A few hundred yards along, I shifted up onto the big ring and settled in. I'm normally pretty slow, but I got the old bike rolling along at a brisk clip, at least for me. When I got to county line, I was holding to an 18 mph average, which doesn't sound like much, but it was for me. I finished the climb, grateful I didn't have the thundering herd fighting it out for the sign around me, then got onto the flat. The big German shepherd wasn't out on his chain, and I wondered if he was still around, or if he'd died over the winter. Then on past the intersection with Mill/Klugh Road and going for Highway 72.
I sat up, drank, and coasted to a crawl at the stop sign, decided I liked the gap, and turned right. My average speed had fallen some, down to 17.5 or so, but I figured I had a good time gap anyway, and starting early was the only way I'd ever have that.
I took the right near Ebenezer Church and started the long descent to the bridge, bumping along on the rough macadam. For the zillionth time I wondered if a Brooks Pro would be more comfortable on Spike, then I hit the really fast part of the descent and was busy making myself small and flat along the top tube.
The climb up from the bridge is a nasty piece of work, but I chugged on up it. There have been times in my life when it has beaten me, but this time it was just a hill. I got to the intersection with Stevenson and sat up, then turned and stopped. I drank some water and cooled off. That was no good, so I started riding up and down the road between the Old Greenwood Highway and 72, just trying to keep everything loose. After a dozen minutes went by, I concluded that next time I would either not leave quite so early, or I'd agree to meet up further on the ride.
I was at the far end of the little jog when I turned and saw the first riders making the turn onto Stevenson. It looked like Zac towing someone else. I rode back and watched most of the pack roar by, then rode small circles while John, Jim, Duann, and a couple of other riders finished the climb. Almost immediately they accelerated, and I was working hard to stay on a wheel.
"This is Landon," John said, indicating the adolescent on the red Specialized. "Feel free to give him advice and pointers. He takes it pretty well, and he doesn't say anything back."
That was an understatement. For the next hour, I didn't hear a word pass the lad's lips. Who could blame him - no doubt he wasn't sure if he could trust me with any information at all. Considering how disreputable old Stripe looks, it makes sense.
We rolled along, and the pace finally settled down a bit. Landon was apparently on only his fourth ride with the club. I watched him, riding back a bit from his rear wheel. He had a fast cadence, a little jerky maybe, but he looked like a natural who with a little setup work and some practice would have great soupplesse
and a great spin.
We turned right onto the old Hodges-Abbeville road and started climbing. I hung with the group for a while, but on the big climb up from the bridge near the church, I drifted off the back. I saw John sit up and regained his wheel near the top. Jim was already gone off the front, powering on in. Duann and Landon were up ahead, their red jerseys moving along down onto Blue Jay.
We let them go. John and I talked about Deal or No Deal and its combination of sheer raw greed with gaming strategy; county line signs and great sprints for them; and best of all, the cheesy cutouts of lounging cowgirls decorating the fenceline of the farm at midpoint on the hill.
"I think he took some liberties with that pattern when he cut those out," John said.
I looked. One of the cowgirls appeared to have a replica of Anna Nicole Smith's bustline, but bigger and even more cartoon-like. "I believe you're right," I said.
Once on 185 towards Hodges, we could see Duann and Landon maintaining a steady pace ahead of us. I sat up for a moment in Hodges, then we rolled on.
In hindsight, it's weird. I looked back and saw a red car coming up on us and called out, "Car back." John nodded, the car passed us, then accelerated, the engine growling louder. I noticed it was a Camaro or some such thing, and I could see the driver and no one else. His pace ratcheted up and he went burning on up the road and around the corner.
"I do believe that fellow is exceeding the speed limit," I told John. He agreed, we chuckled, and I figured he was like who knows how many motorists that go by at great speed. A moment later, I saw a flash of red as the car turned onto Dixie Drive and roared on. A moment later we followed, more slowly of course, with me sitting on John's wheel.
I don't really remember what we were chit-chatting about, but we saw Duann and Landon ahead. We were rolling along at 19, fast enough to get somewhere but not burn me up like a book of matches, and then there was a turn ahead that the riders in red had gone around already.
We made the turn and I saw cars stopped in the road, bikes on their sides by the roadside, and Duann and Landon standing on the shoulder. I was wondering if they had crashed or if Jim had come to grief when I saw the red car.
No one had seen it happen, but it looked like the driver had taken the curve at high speed and lost control. The car wound up pointing back the way it had come, on its side after apparently hitting a tree roof first. It was eerily still. For some reason, probably to keep it from being too real, I noticed rust and road dirt on its underside.
One of the motorists had climbed up to check on the driver; another had called 911 on her cell phone. Duann came back down the hill from checking to make certain no one had been thrown from the vehicle.
We spoke to the gathering bystanders, agreed we could only add to the confusion, and headed on towards Greenwood feeling more than a little spooked. We left the road a couple of times as emergency vehicles came out from town with lights and sirens going, watching them pass from the grassy shoulders.
Back at the starting point, riders began trickling in small clumps. There was lots of talk from the fast guys doing the longer route who had run up on the wreck site after the emergency personnel arrived. We speculated, mostly wondering why he'd been driving so fast.
I went home and hung Spike up on his pegs. I had 27 miles for the day, and Ana had supper waiting for me.
Today's paper had a three inch story on page 2 about a man dying in a single car accident on Dixie Drive Thursday. He was my age, 44.