Sunday, August 9, 2009

Old Roads and Old Friends

We all have a group of people that we like to hang out with. If it's sitting around Starbuck's and talking about movies or books, the people in our group are usually folks with whom we've seen these movies, or who have read the same books. If it's work, we usually sit in the lunch room with the folks who are on the same project as us, in the same department, or do the same kind of work. Conversation usually centers around what a jerk the boss is.

As cyclists, our gang is usually a group of other riders with similar riding abilities. The Cat 2 and Cat 5 racers may enjoy a great conversation in the parking lot, but 20 minutes after rolling out they are with their own respective pedaling peers. Later, the Cat 2s will get together and talk about how many watts they were putting out going up Backbone Ridge, and the Cat 5s will talk about what a jerk the boss is.

There's nothing wrong with this. It's really in everyone's best interests, since the Cat 2 will not remain a Cat 2 for long if he/she rides slow with his friend, and the Cat 5 would have to ride harder than is smart in order to give the Cat 2 a good workout.

It gets even more tricky with randonneuring. As my friend, Mary Crawley, once said, "Ultra-cyclists are the fringe element of a fringe sport." She meant this on a statistical basis -- the percentage of bicycle riders in America is pretty low anyhow, so that the number of riders who would actually choose to do the ridiculous distances that we do is a miniscule subset of a tiny percentage. Of course, the "fringe" comment also applies to some of the personalities we get in ultra-cycling ... but that's a different discussion.

Given that there are relatively few ultracyclists in this world (although there is a planet near Sirius where they are the dominant species ... go figure), I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have a group of randonneuring friends that live close by, and who are at about the same level of skill as I am. Most of them can ride faster and further than I usually can, and will make me work hard. Even better, we get along really well and have similar points of view about most of the really important things in life. This means that we can ride hard for long distances, because when we slow down we have really great conversations.

Sunday, I rode my Green Acres permanent with two friends like this: Jeff Bauer and Peter Lee.

We rode just about on the edge of our abilities for the entire 200 kilometers, sprinting for every county line and city limit sign, each of us knowing that we had better kick it hard or we were not going to take the points. It was a typical hot, humid, August afternoon in Tennessee, so we should have been miserable, but it was a blast.

Part of this route includes Baker Mountain Road -- with around two miles of non-stop climbing. The sun was beating down on this road as we started up, so we decided to make it even harder by turning onto Old Baker Mountain Road, instead.

Here's a tip for people planning a cycling route. If a road has "Old" in it, it usually ends up at the same place where the "New" version does, but is either curvier, hillier, un-paved, or all three. Sometimes it will run into a lake or dead-end at a highway, which is a real pain. However, on the plus side, the "Old" version of the road usually gets less traffic, because the only people that get on that road instead of the "new" version are the people that live there or are going to the lake. Oh, and it also gets crazy bicyclists.

So, we took Old Baker Mountain Road. It was paved, which was nice. It was also a little steeper than Baker Mountain Road, which was less nice. Best of all, it was mostly shady and had no cars. Sweet.

Once up Baker Mountain, we took the pace up to over 20 mph. Just before we reached Fall Creek Falls State Park, it rained on us enough to cool things down, but stopped before we reached A&H Market. We ate lunch at the market, and the rain came back just after we left.

It rained hard, so we hid under an awning at the Van Buren County Head Start center. Then, it started raining really hard.

We waited for it to stop before we got back on the road, but in less than a mile we started down Hwy 30. Ordinarily, this is a great descent. When it's wet, unless you have Fabian Cancellera skills ... not so much.

Once we got off the plateau, the rain pretty much stayed away and things got steamy again. We stopped about half-way on this stretch to take some pictures at the Hodges Family Cemetary.

I've ridden past this a number of times, but had never stopped before. Besides the very nice arch at the entrance, it also has some extremely old gravesites with what seems to be sheets of slate or granite perched over them. Here's Peter checking them out.

Many of the headstones are from the early 1800's. The one below that looks really old is actually one of the newer graves, since many of the very old graves have had their headstones replaced.

As with this one ...

At the bottom, this one said "A loving wife and mother dear lies buried here."

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