the (digital) art of cycling
A couple of years ago, Ana surprised me with a stunning digital painting of my old Falcon San Remo fixed-gear. I think it was her first or second piece featuring bikes - right in the same time frame she did a great piece based on a Lyotard Marcel Berthet pedal.
I've lived with it for a while, and every time I look at it, I'm struck by how vibrant it is. On several occasions, I've commented to Ana that her bike paintings feel to me like exuberant florals masquerading as bike parts.
The digital painting is pretty cool as an art form, especially the way she handles it. It's pretty much using a Wacom tablet and a PowerBook as if they were a brush, paint and canvas. She can get great texture, even the palette-knife look. Then she prints them onto archival-grade paper as original prints that should last at least 75 years. Way cool.
About a year ago we started talking about taking her work public, but it took a while for things to get rolling. A few months ago she cleared the decks and went to work, turning out a series of paintings of fixed-gear cogs. We talked about where to display and sell pieces, and had initially thought we would be debuting her work at the Cirque du Cyclisme next month.
Before that could happen, I saw a notice on Dennis Larson-Bean's fixed-gear gallery site about a bike art show in Minneapolis. The deadline for submissions was only days away. I showed it to Ana, and she sent them an online application. A few days later, she got an email back, asking her to send all five of the pieces she had submitted. They're on exhibit at Altered Esthetics gallery
through June 28th, and may be going on to the Green Man Festival after that.
If you'd like to check out her artwork, go to anafitzgerald.com
I rode the Tour d'Abbeville today. Please note - Tour de Abbeville is just bad grammatically, despite the potential it yields for Bob Roll-esque pronunciation as "Tour DAY Abbeville." Despite my involvement for several years in TdA's predecessor (the old Lost Weekend ride), I'd never ridden it. In 2003 I was on my honeymoon; in 2004 I was recuperating; and last year we were off on an anniversary trip to the beach. This year the schedule worked differently.
I didn't pre-register, figuring it was best to play it safe. There's no telling what can come up, right? I rode Wednesday night, getting in 27.75 miles. Thursday it looked like rain, so I figured an extra rest day would be a good thing. Friday night I wisely prepped the bike and filled bottles beforehand.
I got up at 6:15, hoping the extra 15 minutes would be sufficient, especially if I skipped non-essentials like shaving as I got ready to go ride. I still had time for a good breakfast (the inevitable oatmeal with protein powder, peanut butter and raisins) and a cup of coffee on the couch with Hannibal the cat in my lap. I didn't quite get the timing right, though, and arrived in Abbeville just a few minutes before 8:00.
I threw my kit together and rode across the square to the Abbeville Visitor's Council to sign up. I said hello to David Knecht and Jim Cox on my way in. I could hear Scott Hines making announcements, including something about the color-coding of the arrows on the road. Alas, by the time I emerged, the mass start had gone, along with the folks I'd planned on riding with.
As I put my helmet on, I heard someone say, "Russ?" I looked up to see a distinguished looking guy. "I'm Jeff Ford. We rode together a few times a couple of years ago." And so it was. Jeff has been one of Lowry Parker's ride buddies for years - some time when we've got the time to do it, remind me to tell you about Lowry and Jeff and Look cleats in Godfrey's Market in Hodges, SC.
So anyway, I formed up with Jeff and his buddy (whose name I never caught) and we set off. Another rider joined us and almost immediately got upset over route markings. There were old markings on the road, but nothing indicating we should go straight. Only Jeff's comments that we were to stay straight until we made a left on Pecan Road kept us on track.
We rolled along and talked about vintage Steyr-Puch Sears 3-speeds, area roads and the headwinds we were beginning to encounter. The pace was sociable, but we still overtook several folks and passed them on our way to the first res
Several GCC riders were present - Connie, Donis and Vonona, who I'd ridden with recently, and Ann and Denise, who I hadn't seen in a while. After ascertaining that the rest stop had only one banana left, I passed. Denise and Ann were about to leave, so I joined them and we headed out.
We chit-chatted, and I was reminded that they routine did long rides together. They were familiar with these roads. After a couple of turns, I realized I was on roads I remembered from riding or SAGing Lost Weekend years ago. We passed a house I'd used as a background for a bunch of photos of riders in 2001; a little later we made our way through a headwind into Antreville and the second rest stop.
When I stepped over to the table, a nice lady promptly took my bottles and filled them with water for me. I looked over the food on the table and wound up taking part of a banana - most of the rest of the food was processed stuff, lots of cookies and such. I was glad I'd packed some pita with peanut butter.
"Which route markers do I follow again?" I asked.
"Green for the metric, white for the century," I was told. Hmm.
Wild Bill Reese showed up as we were preparing to leave. I'd ridden a bunch with his son Scott back in the '80s, and Bill had done a lot of club rides four or five years ago. We didn't have much time to catch up - Denise and Ann set a pace just a bit too fast for Bill, who hadn't ridden more than 25 miles at a time this year.
We were joined by a fellow named Lucky somewhere on Keowee Road. It emerged that he was doing the full English century, but his map was unclear. He made a phone call to a buddy of his who was somewhere out there and he was more confused afterward. We finally stopped at the intersection of Keeowee and 185 and c
ompared maps. Right about that time, Joy pulled up in a SAG wagon. There we learned that Lucky had been handed a map for a completely different ride, the Calhoun Falls Century. Uh oh. I looked more closely at my cue sheet. White for the metric. Ahhh ... fortunately, the routes were the same until the outskirts of Due West. Unfortunately for lucky and some of the other century riders, many of them had ridden part of other, older rides.
He went on up the ride, while we continued rolling along. It was getting hotter and hotter, with temperatures now above 90 degrees. Somewhere outside of Donalds we pulled off in the shade and took a quick breather in the shade before heading on out to Highway 178. About a mile later we made the turn onto 184. I dropped off the back again, really starting to suffer from the heat. I pulled off into the shade and ate another pita and peanut butter sandwich before setting off again. Denise met me about half a mile from the rest stop and mentioned they were going to go to the gas station. I stopped off at the rest stop and ate a fig newton and refilled my bottles before going to meet Ann and Denise. I wound up going in and buying some crackers to take care of my jonesing for salt. We sat on their porch under the overhang and ate and drank.
I looked at my cycle computer and saw it read 60 miles even at that point. Hmmm. This was turning out to be an extra long metric - we had another d
ozen miles to go to Abbeville. We rolled out on 185 and headed for 20 and the ride back in. The heat was brutal by this point, and I could feel myself bonking horribly. At Ann's suggestion, I held off from stopping until we reached a place that sold awnings. Two other riders had already taken shelter from the sun, so we joined them for a few minutes before doing the last six miles.
I'd avoided the granny ring until the very last hill, when I finally dropped down onto it to get up the last brutal bit. I had 72.4 miles, the longest metric I've ever done, and my longest day in the saddle so far this year.
pea gravel ...
Sunday's ride almost didn't happen. I drove out to scenic downtown Hodges to find Campbell standing outside his vehicle, his bike still safely stored inside it, as he pondered the sky. I said hello and got out of my truck and followed his example.
There were large dark clouds, moving swiftly across the sky. Hmmm, I thought. Campbell and I talked a bit, while Young Bradley arrived and we waited for Jim. Strawhorne's truck was there, but he wasn't. Jim drove up and we conferred.
It looked like it would pass without incident. The big black clouds were whipping along above us, and it looked like there were clear skies beyond them. Heh.
"Let's wait a little bit and see if this clears up," Jim said.
Moments later, Andrew Douglas drove up with his Serotta in the back of his truck. Jim took it as a sign.
"Mr. Andrew Douglas has arrived," Jim intoned. "Surely we will ride today."
Less than a minute later, Strawhorne rode up with the wind at his back. "It's brutal
out there," he said as he passed.
About that time the raindrops started falling.
I tried to come up with something to cover the B17 saddle on Belle, then gave up as the rain started falling heavily. Everyone ducked into their vehicles and the bottom dropped out. The rain was just pounding away, but the wind was pushing it so wildly that I could open the offside window of the truck and no water came in. I looked back and saw trees swaying behind me - but when I opened the back window to take pictures they couldn't capture the wildness of the weather.
During a lull, I slipped out and hopped into the passenger seat of Andrew's truck and we talked, hanging out and listening to the rain batter the truck roof. Things finally tapered off, and we all hopped out and started prepping our bikes. I wiped the saddle off, grateful that I'd proofided it in the recent past.
We set off, going down 185 to the intersection with Pickens Creek Road instead of taking the usual cut-through on Blue Jay Road. Bradley launched an attack for the sign, but that's normal, right? Campbell and I talked about the pea gravel Abbeville County was putting on its roads, and we both shook our heads and clucked our tongues when we crossed the old Abbeville-Hodges road. It looked like it was covered in jagged marbles and tar.
Bradley went raging on ahead, but Campbell, Andrew and I wound up following Jim down onto Dungannon to David Knecht's place. It's a tradition with Jim - if you ride anywhere near the home of someone who should be riding with us but isn't, you ride past their place and harass them by calling them out to go ride.
Since the Knechts live back off the road, we got to ride down a long gravel driveway. We wound up simultaneously bringing Gini Knecht out from the backyard and awakening David from a nap. After a few minutes of chatting, we set off again, climbing back up to the top of the hill and heading on towards Old Abbeville Highway. From there we cut over onto Clem Road, going from there to Deadfall before returning to Hodges via Dixie Drive. Somewhere along Dixie, the wind reappeared, and I tucked in behind Jim and Campbell and drafted shamelessly the rest of the way in. I had 21.04 miles at the end of the day.
Today I got errands run on my afternoon off, grabbed a great snack, and got Belle ready for another ride. The usual crowd was gathering at the Y, including Paul Velky, Aaron, Todd, Josh, and a bunch of guys that I say hi to that I see for the first mile or two of the ride before they take off. S'all right.
There were several conversations about Abbeville County and pea gravel. Apparently, in addition to Blue Jay and Old Abbeville-Hodges Road, they've also paved the entire length of Stevenson Road - which could make for an interesting Callaham Challenge come Thursday evening. There was concern that other roads have also been treated with this nasty stuff, including the routes for Saturday's Tour de Abbeville.
I wound up riding with Jim and Landon the Silent, tucking in behind Jim down the length of Dixie. I kept thinking, man, I wish Jim would bring this pace down a notch, but he didn't. I dropped off the back a time or two, then did the same on 185. I caught back up with them when we turned onto Pickens Creek, and sat in at the back.
I watched Landon. After a certain point, I saw him crane his head up and around to look past Jim at the county line sign. I thought about it for a minute and watched the distance to the sign shrink. At about 100 yards or so, I reached down and shifted Belle up and went for it. Seconds later I heard Jim yell, "Go, Landon!" I put my head down and my hands in the hooks and tried to spin as fast as humanly possible. Turning my head, I could see Landon's shadow and pushed just a touch harder.
For once, just once, timing was on my side. Landon ran out of road before we got to the sign. I let out a guttural "Ha!" as I took the sign by something between half a whe
el and a tire's width.
Coasting along for a moment, I looked over at him and grinned. "Won't be able to do that again, will I?" I said.
He just smiled.
The rest of the ride went pretty quietly. They dropped me on the climbs, but not too badly. I made it up the nasty short hill on the 38x19, and got up the other hills without too much trouble. By the time we got onto Old Abbeville, I was feeling pretty well used up - but not enough to not contend for the last sign on the way in. I took it, but it was inconclusive - we both pulled up on our sprints and went neutral when a car came by in the other lane.
A good ride, all in all, and I had another 21.1 miles at the end of it. It was even better when I got home and found Ana had made tuna patties, broccoli and homemade cornbread for supper.
the winds don't relent
I didn't ride last Sunday. The virtuous part of me wanted to finish off the trim on the deck off the back porch. The pain-fearing part of me wanted to let my legs rest after the ride beyond Troy. The practical side of me took a look at the weather report and decided to skip riding in 20 mph winds.
Unfortunately, the winds were still active on Tuesday. I wound up riding with Campbell, Joy and Landon the Silent on a route that took us from the Y through Hodges, down Blue Jay, up Klugh, taking a left onto Flatwood and back in via Dixie and through Center Court. It was a fairly uneventful ride, even with the stiff winds. Probably the high point was seeing Dr. Paul Velky show up for a club ride.
Once on the road, I spent a lot of time on the drops on the way out. The stiff climb on Klugh Road was a problem purely because my shifters were slipping a touch, and I promised myself I would clean and regrease the appropriate bits to fix them. I wound up with 20.7 miles for the day. That night after supper, I carefully lubed the right washers and reassembled everything.
Wednesday's ride was another slogfest into the wind. This time I rode with Jim, Norm and Young Bradley as we headed out on what is become the standard route. Jim and I took the Pembroke Road cutoff, which knocked a mile off our ride. I was surprised at how much easier the hill was than I remembered it being - a few years back I had regarded it as a brutal killer.
Bradley was giving Jim grief about the upcoming Assault on Marion ride, affiliated with the Assault on Mt. Mitchell. Jim is essentially allergic to mountainous rides, and Bradley was taunting him about not wishing to do the ride.
Karma put in an appearance later in the ride - Bradley's Shimano STI shifter became, uhh, vague. Actually, it wouldn't release onto the higher gear cogs. It emerged that he'd had the shift cable replaced recently, and I suspect it needed to be more carefully seated.
We rolled on back via the rail-trail with a fierce dispute about modern bike parts - I argued that reduced spoke-count wheels were a bad idea for people weighing more than 150 lbs., while he contended that modern technology was stronger than I gave it credit for being. I felt a little vindicated by the failure of his shifter, but didn't let myself gloat about the smooth operation of my bike's downtube shifters. I managed to at least get his chain back down to a more useable rear cog, and he and Jim rode home. I had 24.04 miles for the day.
Thursday I didn't ride - Ana was returning home after a week spent in Nashville with family, and I wanted to cook a big supper for her homecoming. Grilled turkey cutlets, oven-fried potatoes, and carrots and stringbeans cooked in foil-wrap on the grill hit the spot. I still wonder why people complain about eating healthy - the limitations of my dietary needs and Ana's has paradoxically led to a lot more experimentation and a greater appreciation of the actual flavors of foods, rather than their seasonings.
My Saturday began with a bang as a massive thunderstorm awakened me. This was after being awakened at 2:00 by Hannibal grooming my hair to (politely) tell me his food dish was empty, but before I was awakened by Hector purring in my ear to tell me that his schedule required my presence in the kitchen.
I rode down to the fountain, running just a bit late, to find Donis, Jim, and Landon the Silent awaiting. We held up for a few minutes more to let any stragglers show up. While we waited, I mentioned the Assault on Marion ride to Jim, and wondered how Campbell and Bradley were doing.
"You know, that ride starts at 6:30," Jim said. "They had to leave at 3:00 to get there and get set up."
"Yeah, it's a brutal time," I said.
"Bradley gave me a lot of crap about not doing the ride," he said. "I hope John (Campbell) reaches over and pokes him and wakes him up every time he nods off."
I laughed and agreed. Karma, you know?
After deciding on a Cedar Springs out-and-
back, we set off via the rail-trail to Florida Avenue, eventually getting onto Briarwood. Jim led us onto Whitehall Road and from there we rode to Promised Land before taking Highway 10 to Cedar Springs Road. I wound up leading Landon out down the bumpy macadam. We made the turn at the old stagecoach stop and rode past the church to the top of the hill, where Watson Hill and Sumter Forest cross the road.
Landon and I waited for a minute or two at the intersection for Donis and Jim. I told Landon which ways the dirt roads led and led him back towards Greenwood. The wind was at our backs, and I was able to shift back up onto the 50T ring and push bigger gears than I had on the way out. We were within a mile of the end of Cedar Springs Road before I saw Jim and Donis up ahead. We regrouped on Highway 10 and headed back in. Jim peeled off on West Alexander, taking a different route home. I rode back in with Donis and Landon. When I saw his folks waiting to pick him up, I said my goodbyes and headed for home. I wound up with 38.37 miles and was home before 1:00, ravenous and ready for lunch.
to troy and back again: fixed-gear adventures in long cane country
I don't think I'd ever been to Troy, SC before today. If I drove through there, it was a long time ago and I wasn't paying attention. Riding in cars is like that.
I had, however, been looking at Troy on the map for several weeks. I'd used the Windows box computer on my desk to check out the county's GIS site (which doesn't work on my beloved PowerBook, dang it!), comparing the road names to the lines on my pasted-together photocopied maps of the area. I'd figured out a route weeks ago and had discussed it with Ainsley, but there just wasn't a good time - until today.
We met at the fountain early, shooting for 8:00. As Ainsley put it, "If I can get to work there at 8:00, I ought to be able to get there for a ride." I wound up being seven minutes late, but Ainsley was still setting up equipment, so it was all right. We got rolling at 8:14, going out the usual rail-trail to Wisewood to West Scotch Cross to Rock House Road. We were on the last bit of Rock House in the area I call the Greenwood Steppes when we saw something slink across the road and into the brush. As we passed the clearing we both caught a glimpse of something dark and moderately large getting out of sight.
"What was that?" I said.
"Maybe it was the Abbeville Panther," Ainsley suggested, reminding me of a recent and overblown newspaper story.
We talked about it for the rest of Rock House and I agreed with Ainsley that it was probably what he called a "melanistic bobcat." Something large and vaguely predatory could live in that area for a long time dining on some of the zillions of rabbits that surely lived there - like the three we saw in short order. We made the turn and crossed the bridge and turned left onto Millpond. As we did a couple of weeks back, we commented on how much smoother its dirt surface was compared to the bumpy macadam of Rock House.
We stopped at the entrance to Calabash Road to eat small snacks and check the map out again, a process we would repeat frequently as the day wore on. I had 18 miles and change at that point. I led off and we began to learn another road.
Calabash looks like a regular dirt road for the area, but then you come to a fork. The left fork, which is maintained like the entry section, is somebody's driveway. The right fork, which we took, doesn't appear to be maintained much, if at all. The surface was sort of a cross between sand and tiny pebbles - standing climbing was an experience. The tiny one-lane bridge we crossed looked like an afterth
ought, thrown together with odd leftover bits from the highway department. But it was just so danged pretty back there. I took a couple of pictures that mostly showed how shady the woods were, and then we were riding on tar and pea gravel for a couple hundred yards - not paved, just kinda dumped in a there-ya-go fashion right onto the dirt.
Time to consult the map again - our route lay to the right along Highway 221. Right beyond the first bend was a dirt road - no name on the map, no sign, just a nameless dirt road next to a church, and we followed it to Highway 10. Once across, we found ourselves on Barksdale Ferry Road. Now, we could have just ridden 10 into Troy - there's not much traffic on it at that point - but here was a perfectly good dirt road on a pleasant day. So down Barksdale Ferry we went, passing a beautiful 19th Century house hidden by the woods from the world, down a long hill and working our way South by Southwest.
We emerged on pavement where Cox Road leads off to the right - a turn we should have made, according to the route I had planned.
"Seems kinda wrong to ride to Troy without actually seeing what's there," I told Ainsley.
"Not much there," he said.
I pondered our low food s
upply - we had one granola bar between us at this point - and asked, "Any convenience stores?"
"There's a Mom and Pop place like the one in Bradley, I think."
So we rode on to Troy. The Mom and Pop place turned out to be a restaurant called the Hash House that was just setting up for the day - we passed on that. There was a clump of abandoned buildings along the highway and a small, neatly painted town hall. After consulting the map again, we made the turn onto Greenwood Street - and then Ainsley saw the sign for the Indian Massacre Grave Site.
The Long Cane Massacre is something I've seen references to since I first lived here in 1981. On February 1, 1760, 23 settlers were killed by Cherokee Indians while attempting to flee to safety from an impending attack. It was apparently a powerful, formative experience for the Scottish Presbyterians of the area, and there are references to it all over the place.
Ainsley wanted to go check it out, and the sign said 3 miles, so I figured, why not? We turned and followed the signs, eventually coming to West Charleston Road. After a bit, it turned to dirt road, but that's what we were looking for, right?
West Charleston Road is a delight for the dirt-riding roadie - some whoop de doos, a couple of hills, but generally a decent surface. We came to the turn off to the gravesite and went down the steep hill. I read the marker, then dismounted and followed Ainsley across the footbridge. There were two markers and a foot stone; the older marker was for Catherine Calhoun and appeared to be roughly contemporary to her death, while the other was much newer and had been placed in honor of five casualties by a descendant.
"It's kind of surreal," Ainsley said. "This gravesite is more than 200 years old, but it's still maintained."
It was strange. This place was in the middle of nowhere, but the grass was cut, and two small trellises supported rose bushes. We talked about how this had probably been part of an open field until relatively recently - there were no hardwoods, and all the pines looked to be 50 years old or younger. Putting our helmets back on, we went back across the bridge and got up the hill with less effort than we feared.
West Charleston really came into its own now, complete with a really cool steel and wood bridge over Long Cane Creek. We surprised a buzzard and a turkey with our voices. After taking a couple of photos, I rolled across what felt like 2x4s set edgewise, and the rumble of my tires set two Mallards that had been swimming below into flight.
A couple of miles later we hit pavement and found ourselves looking at Ivy Hall, aka the Wideman Plantation. At least, that's what the sign said. The directional signs indicated that going right would take us to Troy in two miles. Hmm. Another map check, and we agreed that if we went right, we'd come to a T that would take us on out to our original route. We rode for several miles, being passed by the occasional pickup truck or sensible sedan, and finally reached a T intersection - only to find ourselves back in Troy.
We rode back to the town center, such as it was, and pondered the map again before finding our error. Back out the way we'd just come, but this time we stayed straight, eventually hitting Puckett Town Road. I felt better seeing the sign - it was the right direction after all. A while later, I looked ahead and saw a "pavement ends" sign. Actually, Puckett Town peeled off to the right, but our route lay straight ahead.
I've been curious about Sumter Forest Road ever since I first saw it on the GIS site. It turned out to be one of the best dirt roads yet. It was smooth, apart fro
m the first few yards it was pretty well hard packed, and had only one descent that required steady back pressure against the fixed-gear's lockringed cog, followed by a dainty bridge, then one grunt of a climb. I slogged up the hill standing, feeling Julius' back end fishtail on some loose stuff.
At the top, Ainsley shook his head. "That was special."
"Wasn't it just," I said.
Fortunately, from that point on, Sumter Forest is pretty much flat and smooth hardpack all the way to Cedar Springs. We stopped for yet another breather, but for once left the map in my saddlebag. We knew where we were.
"Wanna split this last granola bar?" Ainsley said.
I took him up on his offer. "Let's go in via Promised Land," I said. "We can
resupply at the store there. For once, I actually have a couple of dollars in my wallet."
He was agreeable to that idea, so we set off down Cedar Springs Road, passing the church there (I think it was the fifth or sixth Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church I'd passed since Troy) and going down the bumpy tarmac towards Highway 10. We had the wind at our backs, which made life much easier. By this point my legs were a little tired, my hands and feet were numb from the road vibration, and my butt wanted to be somewhere other than on a Brooks B17 saddle.
It was worse for Ainsley. He'd ridden the beater Schwinn with its wretched cheap saddle, and he proclaimed he would soon be acquiring something a bit more comfortable.
The Promised Land Grocery Store was an experience. Vehicles were parked haphazardly in the lot, and people milled back and forth in and out of the place. Ainsley stayed with the bikes while I went in and got some food and a bottle of water. We munched and drank standing in the shade outside the storefront, watching cautiously while a guy filled a gascan with his right hand while holding a lit cigarette in his left. I thought about the movie Zoolander and wondered how fast I could move if things went boom suddenly.
Then we were off again, rolling down W
hitehall to Briarwood. I felt like I had a second wind, and I was able to turn the 45x18 with a little more crispness, feeling the spin in my legs and keeping my heels dropped for better speed. The winds were favorable, and the sudden shift to smooth pavement from tarmac was pure heaven.
Neither of us was quite sure where West Alexander would deposit us, so we opted for the usual route down Florida Avenue. Ainsley was truly suffering now.
"I'm looking forward to the hills so I can stand up," he said. "My legs may be screaming at me, but it's just so good to be off the saddle."
I nodded, grateful that the B17 under me was still on friendly terms. We crossed 221 and rolled up past the deserted little houses near the trail's end. Along the way we overtook an extended family of folks, adults walking, children riding gaily colored high-riser bikes. I pulled ahead on the last rise and decided to take Ainsley down Mineral Court instead of staying with the trail.
The shopping carts were gone. I'd described them to Ainsley earlier in the day, explaining how there had been two standing together next to one on its side.
"You know, when the mating season for feral shopping carts comes along, sometimes the males fight for dominance. It can be brutal, and who knows how many shopping carts meet their end this way," I said.
Ainsley allowed that shopping carts in the wild led rough lives. We wondered who had collected them, then we were on Edgefield and heading for the fountain. I gave him mileage stats and said goodbye and headed home, well pleased with myself. It was a slow ride, but I had 61.09 miles by the time I pulled up in my driveway. About 1/4 of that was on dirt roads, many of them new to me, and I'd done it on a fixed-gear. I felt fierce and exultant, if famished. Lunch awaited me.
the week's club rides
I'm catching up after a full week - let's see, what happened ...
Tuesday night's ride went pretty well, though the details have blurred for me now. I know the group I was with rode out from the Y down Dixie to Klugh, then along the length of that road to Old Abbeville Highway and down to Beudrot Road, coming back in the back way. We went fast, too, running something like 18.26 mph to the turn onto Klugh, and it was still a respectable pace for me at the end of 22.7 miles. I felt well exercised, despite the fact that what I had really wanted was a cool-down recovery ride.
Wednesday's ride was a fast one as well. We met at the fountain under cloudy skies with lots of wind. None of the more laid-back riders showed, and it wound up being me, Fred, Jim, Bradley and Norm. Rides that involve Norm and Bradley usually wind up being pretty quick, and this one was no exception. Out the trail, where we stopped while Norm fixed a flat, then down to the Canadian Mist Highway to Lebanon Church Road. Jimmy cut over onto Pembroke while the rest of us rolled along at a very brisk clip to the bottom of the hill.
We cranked up Scotch Cross. Norm and Bradley had surged on ahead - surprise, surprise - while Fred and I followed. We didn't dawdle. I looked down at Belle's cyclo computer and was surprised to see how often I was doing 18 going up the long hill. Mostly I followed Fred, but a couple of times I pulled while he caught his breath. Jim doubled back to meet us near the top, and we agreed that the bad weather made it prudent for us to cut things short. We went straight across 221 and down the 225 bypass, not one of my favorite routes, then cut over onto Florida Avenue and down the trail without incident. When I got home, I had another 21.3 miles for the week.
Thursday was windy, brutally windy. Jim was not in attendance, though most of the fast folk were. Connie and Donis showed up, so I rode with them. We left a couple of minutes early with me pulling down Old Abbeville. The first batch of riders to overtake us included Bob Chambers and a bearded guy I thought was one of Scott Frock's sons. They rolled past us before we could get to Allen Chapel. Minutes later another pack including Josh and Strawhorne blew by.
We made the turn onto 72, Connie's least favorite part of the ride, then down onto the Old Greenwood Road near Ebenezer Church. The wind was shockingly stiff and dead in our faces. On the long final descent that I usually hit 34 on at the bottom, I was doing 28 - until a sudden gust of wind slowed me to 23. I had no momentum and could only drop onto the 38T ring and crank up the first steep bit, over the false flat and up the last section to Stevenson Road. Connie was riding very well for someone recovering from a fractured elbow, while Donis was having a rougher day than normal for her.
I set off down Stevenson with the quartering wind to my left front. I couldn't get comfortable in a gear, switching back and forth between the 50x21, 50x23, 38x19 and 38x17. None of them were quite right, so I settled into the drops and muscled Belle along.
Old Abbeville-Hodges Highway was a better bet, especially with the wind at our backs now. I churned on up and waited for them at Klugh Road, then took off again down Blue Jay, finally finding a rhythm on the middle ring. We regrouped at the intersection with 185 and watched the first two packs come by before setting off. Connie and I made Donis go first, while I switched on my blinky tail light and brought up the rear. The climb went quickly and we found ourselves on Dixie Drive again. Donis felt frisky and led us along at 20 mph for a while before waving me to the front. I kept the pace to between 18 and 20 the rest of the way. We took the straight shot in on Calhoun and were back from our windswept 25.6 miles by 7:50. The overall pace might have been closer to what I wanted in the way of a laid-back ride, but the wind kept it from being easy.
Folks were still milling around in the parking lot, and I wound up talking with Bob and the bearded guy. He wasn't one of Scott's sons, it was Scott himself, sporting whiskers suitable for a Confederate cavalry officer. Scott in particular commented on my weight loss - at 150 lbs, I'm 25 pounds lighter than I was when I had the heart attack - and we conversed for a while about dietary choices and their results. Bob wanted to know how old my Sidi shoes were, and I think he was surprised to learn they were less than five years old - it's hard to find toe-clip compatible shoes these days.
I went home for my first night with my wife out of town and ate shepherd's pie prepared by my mother-in-law, then went to bed at an early hour. I needed my rest for Saturday.
issaqueena's last ride
Schedules go out the window, and the plan to go ride some version or another of the Vidalia Sweet Onion century went with it. I still wanted to do a ride, though, and I rememb
ered that Ainsley had mentioned he would be riding Issaqueena's Last Ride. It sounded like a good idea to me, so I made arrangements to meet him for the ride.
I did a quick bit of research and somehow came away with the idea that the metric missed out on the worst of the climbing involved. I knew it was a somewhat hillier ride than I had been planning on , but I figured I could manage it, if I took it easy. All I wanted was to finish, right?
I woke at 5:30, ate a bowl of oatmeal with added protein powder and loaded Belle into the truck and drove to Walhalla, where I met up with Ainsley and his cousin Matt. I got registered and prepped the bike. Minutes later, we were all lined up and heading out of town.
I realized just how much craggier the terrain was on the first descent when I looked down and saw the cycle computer registering 32 mph just leaving town. We regrouped, watching the fast guys stream on up the road. It was strange for me to find myself pulling a bunch of riders as Matt, Ainsley and I swapped places over the next couple of miles. The terrain was still rolling, though I got another taste of the steep hills the first time I found myself dropping down a descent and actually using my brakes on a straightaway. I had never ridden Belle at 44 mph before.
Jumping Branch Road was a revelation, but I was able to stay on the large chainring. I had a good feeling about the ride, and I remember thinking, "this is a lot like the Fred ride the other week." We rode past a bunch of lakeside vacation cottages, hopping up and down along the a road cut into a hillside. The last hill of the road, right before we got to the first rest stop, was the steepest yet. Ainsley and I joked about it's being a "stitch-test." Little did we know.
We turned onto Little River Road and headed up. The only canine pursuit of the day happened there, an abortive chase that almost ended in tragedy when a Chihuahua mix came ch
arging onto the road from our left, coming within inches of being run over - only fast braking by the driver and an abrupt reversal by the dog saved him.
As I said, we headed up. I told Ainsley and Matt I'd see them further up the hill, shifted down to the 38x26, and churned along. I rounded the last curve and saw them approaching a stop sign where other riders had paused. I could see the road we were to turn onto going rather shockingly up.
One of the sag drivers drove up and was chatting with other riders, and I got the impression that we had a couple of miles of steep, a little flatter climbing, and then it got steeper. Hmm. I looked at Ainsley's rig, with a 39x25 low gear. I looked at Cousin Matt's Fuji, with what looked like a 34x25. I thought back to how I'd pondered replacing my cranks with a compact double. I looked up the hill, which I was only now realizing wasn't a hill, but a mountain, and suddenly I was grateful I'd fitted a triple crankset back in 2001.
We agreed to regroup at the top. I took a deep breath and set off. Almost immediately I was shifting down onto the triple, fidgeting around and settling in on the 26T ring and putting the chain on the 19T cog. A minute or two later I shifted down to the 21 ... then the 23 ... then, with a grim finality the chain went onto the 26T.
I had another six miles or so of it to the top.
I settled into a rhythm, cranking along, one revolution of my wheels for ever revolution of my cranks. I hugged the right side of the road and learned not to flinch w
hen the motorcyclists came by going down the mountain on their shockingly loud Harleys. Occasionally I would shift back onto the 23, then go back to the 26, and I could hear nothing but backfiring and rumbling. I had enough brainpower to wonder if I was going deaf from their racket, and to suspect the helmetless motorcyclists were probably stone deaf - and then it was back to the 26 and hoping I wasn't about to put a derailleur into the spokes.
Whoever laid out the road had thoughtfully put in little pullouts, with signs suggesting slower vehicles pull into them to let faster ones pass. I noticed them, but I wasn't ready. Not yet, anyway.
There was a pause in the motorcycles, then I heard voices and tires behind me. I looked back and saw the lead elements of the 100 mile group overtaking me, done with their first detour and charging up the mountain. I hugged the white line as they came by astride Merlins and Litespeeds and Treks and Bianchis, all titanium and carbon fibre and aluminum with lots of parts that go clicky-clack. Some went past within an inch of my elbow, and while I was vaguely honored they thought that much of my bike-handling skills, I worried because I could feel the beginnings of wobble as I ground my way up. I could glance over and see they were running doubles, either compact cranks with 34s or standard 39T chainrings. Some had labored breathing, some were totally stoic, but all went past and left me to watch their receding backs and rear wheels.
I pulled into the next pullout and rolled into the shade. I hung my forearms on my brake lever hoods and leaned on my elbows, breathing and letting my heart rate tach back down. I watched the clock, and at two minutes it was time to move on. A couple of turns later and I saw two riders waiting in another pullout. One was Cousin Matt, who waited on me and let me catch my breath again. Two more minutes of rest, then we went on.
Matt tried to reassure me that there was only one more really rough section, but I didn't quite comprehend what he was saying. I'd been hearing conflicting reports, and what I really wanted to believe was that I was through the worst of it. When the grade leveled off slightly, I felt better, and when we had a gentle descent, life looked better still. I shifted up onto the big ring again and turned 50x19 for a moment.
Then I realized we had a left turn to make onto Wigington Road. Rapidly I went through the 38 to the 26T ring, as Matt warned me it got rough from here. To remind me of that, some thoughtful soul had painted on the road that I should be ready for a really tough mile.
I was back in rock bottom gear and crawling now. Everything went away except the climb, the brutal climb. A couple of lean racer types came by, but much, much slower now, looking like they had their doubts about the matter. I went steadily inward, feeling a wave of sadness come over me. I wanted to weep, but just slogged on, ever slower and more painfully. Somewhere along that road I found myself nose to nose with every fear of inadequacy I've ever had in my life. I went up the mountain weighed down by doubt and worthlessness.
But I was going up. Matt was just a little ahead of me now, and he was suddenly pulling off and dismounting, unable to turn 34x25 anymore and walking in his Look cleats. I mumbled something like, "See you in a bit," and passed him. I didn't get far, though. Maybe 50 yards past him, I dismounted and started walking, too. I might not be able to ride up it all the way, but I'd get up the mountain under my own steam, I decided. The old cycling manuals had actually recommended getting off and walking every so often while touring, right? Sure, I could walk. There was supposed to be a rest stop near the top, and there were bound to be SAG wagons. I'd reach the summit and then I could let myself be driven back in, and still call it a moral victory.
Walking wasn't much better than riding, and after about 100 yards, I stopped for a moment near where water was running over an exposed rock face. I hauled out the little pencam to take a couple of shots. When I looked through the viewfinder I was suddenly 14, almost 15, and riding up Route 602 near Callaway, Virginia on a bike loaded with camping gear. We'd stopped that day, too, and I'd taken photos of water pouring from rocks just like this on our way to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
What happened along the way? Where did that skinny kid with the clunky Batavus go? How was it that shrimp-like me had been able to tackle mountains all those years ago, but now I couldn't? Had I always gotten off to rest along the way?
A lean young guy on a Trek passed me slowly, then he, too, dismounted and started hoofing it. I walked past him, then looked back as a moment later he mounted up and struggled on. I watched him go, and then I turned just enough of the corner to see
the rest stop. I stopped in my tracks and looked at the parking lot with cars and cyclists at the overlook. I looked down at my gloved hands on the drops of my handlebars.
I mounted up and rode in the last 100 yards, realizing that I hadn't walked much more than 200 yards. As I slowed and put a foot down, Ainsley called out, "You look like I felt coming in." I don't think I could do much more than nod.
I leaned Belle against the marker and refilled bottles and ate rest stop food. For a ride as well attended as this one was, the food at the stops left something to be desired - it was pretty much packaged candies and cookies, no bananas or bread or peanut butter. I wondered if I would have done better had I brought my own food, concluded I would have, and thought no more about it for a while.
Matt showed up a few minutes later, just as glad as we were to have reached the top. I took some pictures, once again lamenting the loss of the photos I took in July 1976 when I'd ridden the Parkway with Steve and Dave and Lester. The views were the same, and just like 30 years ago, the camera couldn't capture the view from the overlook. I took pictures anyway, including a vain attempt to capture th
e Peregrine Falcon that flew over our heads.
Ainsley was talking to a bearded younger guy whose name I didn't catch. It emerged that he was another fixed-gear list member. Later, Ainsley would comment on how surreal it was to have three members of that list together in South Carolina, and none of us be on fixed-gears. We talked fixies, and I was amused when I introduced myself and his first response was, "My God, you're alive!" He mock bowed at me and told me the photo of my old Falcon on the fixed-gear gallery made me one of the old ones. We wished him luck and he set off while we prepared to leave ourselves.
"Four hundred yards more and you're at the top," one of the rest stop workers said. I wilted.
"Ainsley," I said, "I don't know if I can make it up another 400 yards of this. That's like half a k."
"This is the worst of it. We have one more sharp little climb they call the Wall, but it's supposed to be really short."
I wasn't sure, but okay, I thought. We set off, and immediately I was hurting again. I pulled onto a little pullout and said, "I'm gonna go back in a sag."
"We're almost there," Ainsley said.
I thought, "We've only gone about 100 yards," but I went up after him - and he was right. It was sloping down
, the road was actually going down, and I shifted up to the middle ring, then from the 26 to the 19, then up onto the 50, and for the first time in ages I was descending.
I wasn't out of the woods yet. Looking back, I needed better food in me, but I recognize the mountain had taken a lot out of me. On climbs that I would have zoomed up on the big ring a few hours ago, I crawled and felt pleased to stay in the middle at the summit. Several times I looked back at oncoming cars hoping they would be SAGs. No such luck.
We had a great long descent for a while there, passing above the fishery and giving me a chance to practice going downhill fast while staying in control. It had been a long time, and I don't take the chances now I did when I was a teenager, but I got down okay. Somewhere along the line we came to what I think was the Wall, and I was grateful we stopped at the top to catch our breath. Curt Sexton from the Aiken club passed us as we rested and commented, "THAT was special." We muttered our agreement and mounted up and headed on.
We got onto Highway 28, aka the Highlands Highway, and ground along. There was a long, steady, gentle climb, and I fell off the back behind Ainsley and Matt. I looked again, in vain, for a SAG. No dice. I caught up to the guys at a funky little roadside store advertising boiled peanuts. Matt suggested taking a shortcut in, and while Ainsley and I discussed it, he went into the store for some water. When he emerged, the lady running the place came to the door.
"It's all downhill from here, almost," she said.
Right, I thought. Still, there were no SAGs in sight, so why not? We took off, Ainsley, then Matt, then me at the back.
The woman at the store was right. The next couple of miles flew by as we went down a long, steady incline, and I tucked in and let Belle roll. Some guy on a tri-bike went past me and I let him, content to coast. Down near the bottom I saw where Ainsley had turned left and Matt was waiting, so I made the turn - I would have missed it otherwise - and we were on Playground Road. Completing my feeling of turning back time 30 years, it looked and felt just like roads around Ferrum I'd ridden i
n the 70s.
When I crossed Main Street near the church, I went straight to the truck and loaded up Belle. There was food in the fellowship hall but I couldn't eat much - some soup, some noodles, and a sandwich - and then I was calling Ana to tell her I was on my way home.
When I got home I looked at the computer. I had 61.73 miles - and I'd gotten over the mountain.
Next time I'll ride it all the way up and wipe out the 200 yards of walking.
first wednesday night ride of the year
At Monday night's meeting I announced I would be leading a medium-tempo ride on Wednesdays, leaving at 6:00 from the fountain downtown. In past years the Wednesday night ride has left from the Y, but typically that's meant it's been a rehash of Tuesday night's gathering.
I rode Belle the mile and a half to the fountain and arrived by quarter till. The first rider to show up was Norm; almost immediately Connie drove up. Moments later Donis pulled in, followed by Vonona. Fred cycled up. A pretty diverse group, but it looked good.
I gathered everyone together far enough from the fountain to be heard and described the route - a loop going from the rail-trail conversion to the Canadian Mist Highway, down Lebanon Church Road to Scotch Cross Road, then right to where it ends at Highway 221. From there, the route took in Mt. Moriah Road, then via Briarwood to Alexander to Florida and back in on the trail. In the words of Mick "Be Lucky" Butler, easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy. Right as we were taking off, Landon the Silent arrived. I gave him the quick low-down, and we were off.
It was actually a pleasant ride. Everyone seemed to be into the spirit of things - the faster riders held their pace back, while those who were normally a bit slower worked to stay with the group. It felt like we were all shooting for the happy medium, and getting somewhere near it.
Vonona was feeling the
effects of not enough miles this year, so I dropped back to ride with her. Landon fell back to us, then paced us along, and we towed Ms. V to the end of Old Ninety Six highway. Everyone else had held up on Lebanon Church Road to wait for us. I snapped a couple of quick pix and we were off again. We were lucky - the nasty white dog was not in evidence, and we had an uneventful roll down the long shallow descent.
Onto Scotch Cross we went, down the short hop to the bridge, then up the stiff first part of the climb. From the bridge to Highway 25 it's pretty much a steady climb punctuated by the occasional flat. Vonona reminded me of the time I lost my temper on this route - I was riding the old fixed-gear Falcon for the first time with the club, and someone decided we'd climb this way. I hadn't climbed Scotch Cross on a fixed before and I lost my cool. Oddly enough, my raging, snarling climb was the fastest I'd ridden a fixed-gear since my crash in 2000, but that's another story.
We pulled into the Hot Spot parking lot and conferred. Vonona announced she'd had enough for one day, and Connie was still feeling the effects of her crash in Pendleton in April. Donis joined them and they headed on in. Assured that no one was going in alone, I rode out West Scotch Cross Road with the guys. The pace went up some, but it was reasonable and I was able to hang with them.
We crossed 221 and headed down Mt. Moriah Road. I was grateful for the asphalt for the first mile or so - it used to be tar and gravel all the way. Landon and Norm were pulling by this point, and I found myself shifting up. We maintained a steady 21-23
mph pace for a while, even when the road surface went sour at the end of the state maintenance. I'd never climbed the last hill on that road that fast - somewhere around 19 mph - and I attributed it to being pulled along in others' slipstreams.
We stayed together until we hit the trail. Norm was in the lead, and he began winding it up. Fred and I were both starting to feel it a bit, and I was grateful when Landon reined in his pacemaking and dropped down from 21 down to 18. About 2 miles from the end, there was a loud "pssshhHHT!" from his rear tire.
The pace dropped, but Landon kept riding for a moment. Fred pulled alongside him and said, "What do you want to do?'
"I'll just ride it on in," Landon said. "Don't have a tube, anyway."
That's the most I've ever heard Landon say at one go.
So we rode in with him. There was a steady "thunk-thunk-thunk" of the valve stem area as he rolled along on his flat tire.
I looked down at my cyclometer, then looked over at Fred. "He's doing 12 mph on a flat tire. There've been days I couldn't do that with fully inflated ones," I said.
Fred nodded. He'd apparently been there, too.
At the end, when I got home, I had 27.72 miles for the day with a 15.3 mph average, not bad for a medium-paced club ride. I look forward to doing it next Wednesday.