Sunday, October 4, 2009

One Last Fast Century

October is a classic love/hate time for cyclists, particularly in the southeastern United States. The heat of early September is passing (love), but the days are getting shorter (hate). The leaves on the trees are turning (love), and everyone wants to go to the mountains to see the colors (hate ... but just because they're all in cars oogling the trees, and not watching very closely for bicycles).

We've built up excellent fitness for things like Bundrick's Revenge and Six Gaps (love and hate, since I love being fit but hate working so hard to get that way), but the season is winding down so that fitness will soon fade (hate and love, since I hate losing my meager hard-won strength but love food ... mmm, food).

This is what makes the Sequatchie Valley Century the perfect way to usher in October.

The Chattanooga Bicycle Club -- which also hosts Three-State Three-Mountain in May -- puts on the Sequatchie, so it's down in the lovely mountains of southeastern Tennessee. But, unlike Three-State, the route is fairly flat, going up and down the rolling valley by the Sequatchie River.

Just like Three-State, the Sequatchie has great rest stops and incredible support. You could get lost, but you would have to work on it since the route is marked textbook-perfect ... not to mention the volunteers posted every time the route crosses a major road, stopping traffic and pointing out any turns. This support, coupled with the fairly flat terrain, means that you could hammer away with the fast pack and put in a sub-five-hour time, or you could roll along easy, actually rest at rest stops, and then eat a great burger back at the high school.

RandoGirl and I opted for the fast option this time around. By the time we finished, she had a new personal best for a century: five hours and 38 minutes. We got a lot of help from Les Wooldridge and Connie Weisner -- former Super-80 teammates of mine -- on Les's tandem.

Are we done yet, because I'm ready to throw up ...

When I heard that they had removed the last of the big climbs from the Sequatchie route this year -- plus knowing that RandoGirl would have excellent fitness coming off last weekend's Six Gaps -- I decided in August that this would be a great test for our new Co-Motion tandem. Of course, this is still south Tennessee and not Clarkesville, so we had either 2,500 or 5,000 feet of climbing (depending upon whether you go with the numbers from the official route or RandoGirl's Garmin), so a sub-five-hour century was out of the question ... at least this year.

The new route started from Dunlap, Tennessee -- about halfway between Jasper (the old starting location, near I-24) and Pikeville. When we got to the high school Saturday, it was cold and foggy. By the time the ride started, the fog had lifted, but the cold remained.

For some reason, we missed the formal start of the ride, so RandoGirl and I had to work our way through a huge pack of riders over the course of the next 15 miles. This included a couple of steep little climbs, where far too many riders were weaving all over the road or just stopping and walking. They did not seem to understand that making me hit the brakes on a tandem going up a hill would be unfair. I explained this to a number of riders. Loudly. With adverbs that I don't often use when I'm not cycling with longshoremen, Marines, or carnival roustabouts.

Past these clumps we hit ... well, fortunately, not really hit, but just encountered ... little pockets of people meandering along two- and three-abreast. For these people, I would like to explain just what is meant when somebody calls out "On your left." Generally, it's cycling shorthand for "Excuse me, [sir/madam], but I am fast approaching you and would like to pass you on your left, without having to go into oncoming traffic. To save me the embarrassment of being hit by an oncoming semi and smushed like Coyote hitting a cliff riding atop his Acme rocket, please move to your right and/or ride single file for a few seconds. Thank you."

This definition apparently has not made it to the greater cycling public at the rides I've been on lately. This was very true at Old Kentucky Home Tour last month, where I devised a new tactic: Instead of calling out "on your left," I scream "truck back!" Somehow, although the courteous gene has fallen dormant in our society, the self-protection gene has not, and people quickly go to their right.

Free Product Idea: Somebody needs to come out with a small air horn for tandems that sounds like the horn of a Peterbilt 379, or a fast-approaching rottweiler, or maybe one that plays Dixie like the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard. Singles have gotten where they mostly ignore the little "ching" from a bike bell or "hoot" from a horn -- we need something that will strike fear into their hearts and make them understand that the tandem is not just "cute" anymore, but is a fast-moving mass of metal with momentum that cannot be ignored.

Okay, rant over. Had to get that off my chest. Sometimes, I am "rant"-oboy.

Anyway, once we got past the speed bumps, RandoGirl and I were flying. We averaged over 20 mph to the second rest stop about mile 40, where we finally caught up with Les and Connie. We peeled off a few layers of clothes, filled bottles, and then teamed up with them to fight the headwinds south to Jasper. There, we came about to head northeast again, cruising the tailwind to Dunlap. The day warmed up just enough and the sun came out to perfection, and we kept riding hard to return to the high school almost totally spent, knowing that we had used just about every ounce of energy that we had in the pursuit of righteous speed.

When you finish a ride like that, and you know that you worked as hard as you could that day to do something special, there is a sense of peace. Sure, we could have ridden slower, spent more time at rest stops, enjoyed the scenery, and been less obnoxious to the many riders that we passed. But we didn't.

After the ride, RandoGirl and I showered and changed, and then drove down to Chattanooga and stopped for dinner at Provino's. We ate a huge meal of pasta and garlic rolls, knowing that we had earned it, loving every minute of it, and hating that it was over.

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