Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Longest 25 Miles ... Ever!

About 5:20 pm, right after I climbed back over Lookout Mountain, I realized that I only had 100 miles left in the Tennessee Spring 400K, and over 15 hours to do it in. "Plenty of time," I thought.

Those words would haunt me, as would the beautiful blue eyes of the woman that killed me.

But, maybe I should start at the beginning ...

It was a Saturday, and I was getting up way too early. My name's RandoBoy, and I'm a private detective in the city that never sleeps. Well, okay, I'm actually just another idiot randonneur that was riding a 400K out of Manchester, TN -- a city that actually does sleep, although there are still people driving down 41A at 3 am.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, again.

Chris Quirey (left) and George Hiscox Reflecting Light

Eight of us rolled out of the parking lot of the sumptuous Manchester Ramada Inn (I stayed across the street at the Comfort Suites, and considered myself rather sage in that regard). We set a quick pace over the relatively flat terrain, but these were probably some of the best ultracyclists in the area (well, except for me), and we all worked well together.

I meant to just get a picture of my lovely shoulder. Manly.

We first went up to McMinnville, which is the "Nursery Capital of the World." Zipping down the quiet early morning roads, we passed nursery after nursery -- man's attempt to not only impose a form of order on the universe, but (in the classic American way) make a buck at it in the process. My favorite nursery was "Dry Shave Mountain Nursery." There's gotta be a good story behind that.

Soon, we were starting the first climb of the day, up to the ridge at Beersheba Springs, TN. It was here that I first noticed that, with my Light and Motion Stella on top of my helmet, I was casting the shadow of Marvin the Martian.

"Ooh. You make me so angry!"

The climb managed to warm us all up enough to shed the first of many layers of clothing at the control. I drank a chocolate milk, topped off a bottle, and was ready to go.

David Nixon and Wendy Gardiner in Beersheba Springs

I was mostly hanging with Middle Tennessee RBA Jeff Sammons, who has been riding very strongly this year. He is heading out west in June to do the Cascade 1200K, and should do well.

Jeff on another interminable climb. He had all kinds of stuff in those bags.

The group separated leaving Beersheba Springs, but soon came back together as we rode along the ridge. We then descended back to the valley for a few miles, before climbing back onto the same ridge on the way to the Summerfield, TN control. As we started up this climb, I was riding with Steve Phillips, and Max Watzz took over for a bit. He burned a few matches (I never know what he means when he says this ... I don't even carry matches in my brevet bag) but took the KOM points at the top of that climb. Then, as Max loves to do, he disappeared, leaving me with two legs that were now just big lactic acid bags.

Everybody else was very quick getting in and out of Summerfield, but Jeff and I were now ready for a kindler gentler ride. We still set a good pace on the long road down to the South Pittsburg, TN, control, so that when we stopped for lunch before 1 pm we had ridden finished the first 100 miles of the ride.

Jeff had the catfish plate. I had a cheeseburger and a piece of cake. Nom nom.

From South Pittsburgh we soon crossed into Alabama (Jeff took the two-man state line sprint), and then began to climb Sand Mountain. At this point, we were on the 3-State 3-Mountain course, a very popular ride put on by the Chattanooga Bike Club. Whether this climb over Sand Mountain is tougher than the shorter but steeper infamous Burkhalter Gap climb on that 3S3M is a matter of frequent debate.

View towards South Pittsburgh (notice the bridge?) from near top of Sand Mountain

Once over Sand Mountain, we descended into Trenton, GA, stopping at a convenience store to get some fuel. I was pretty sleepy by now, and actually fell asleep for a minute while sitting on the sidewalk outside. I knew that soon I would need caffeine.

Right after Trenton, we began our first climb over Lookout Mountain. This climb seemed interminable -- a perception that was not helped by the volume of vehicles zooming up past us. The road was in good shape, the grade was not too bad, and Trenton is right on I-59, so I guess we should have expected all of the cars. It was, nonetheless, less pleasant than it should have otherwise been.

On top of Lookout Mountain, just before the descent to the Cooper Heights, GA control, we started to see the other riders returning on this out-and-back leg.

Hey, slowpokes!

First we saw David.

Beat me on a climb, willya ...

Followed closely by Steve.

Did you see a guy up there wearing a jersey like mine?

Then Wendy.

Flashing a peace sign, or a two-barreled fingerbang. You decide.

And then George.

We also saw Jon Pasch just before we began descending, and Chris halfway down, but by then we were moving too fast for me to pull out the camera.

The Cooper Heights control was another convenience store, but it quickly became apparent that this was the store at which the local sheriff's deputies deposited the drunks when they let them out on Saturday night to go visit their momma's on Sunday, so Jeff and I ate some chips, topped off our bottles, and headed back from whence we had so recently descended. Once back on top, we were blessed with a tailwind as we quickly crossed the mountain and headed down and back into Trenton.

Jeff becomes reflective in preparation for the coming evening. Note the bag by his rear wheel -- there's a beer in there

The climb back up Sand Mountain was one of the ride's easiest, and we rode hard to try to get to Stevenson, AL before dark. We didn't quite make it, but we did get to do the long descent down to the Tennessee River with enough light out to enjoy it. Once in Stevenson, we cleared the control and went in search of pizza. Jeff didn't at first think that we could eat a 15" pie. He was wrong.

It was starting to get chilly, so we had put all of our clothes from that morning back on as we rolled out into the Alabama night. After interminable twists and turns, we finally started the last long climb of this route, heading back up the ridge on AL-33. This was probably the hardest of the climbs, but since it was dark I was able to settle in to a good rhythm and just keep spinning.

Finally at the top, the night was getting even colder as we continued on AL-33 to AL-79, where the pavement became a little better. At this point, the 200+ miles was beginning to have its impact on the portions of one's anatomy that are most impacted upon by a bicycle ridden for that distance, and as the road became TN-16 and we left the rough Alabama roads behind, my behind became almost happy.

This stretch was an interminable undulating 25 miles on top of the cold ridge, and you felt as if you were in the middle of nowhere. For a while, I marveled at how clear the sky was and how many stars were visible. Then, I tried to stand and stretch my hamstrings and calves on the short climbs, and tuck in and rest my neck and shoulders on the descents. Eventually, though, I just resorted to gutting it out, getting this part of the road done with, and counting down the miles to the next control.

Soon, we were doing the very steep, very fast descent into Winchester, TN, where Jeff and I stopped for a hot coffee before heading back out for the last, mostly flat 22 miles. The pavement was again rather sketchy -- and problem compounded in the dark by the fact that you can't really anticipate things -- and it was just as cold in the valley as it had been on the ridge. But the coffee woke me up, and we made good time, finally getting back to Manchester just before 3:30 am.

Okay, so there wasn't a beautiful blue-eyed woman on the ride -- that would be RandoGirl, who I called the next morning to let her know I made it. And she didn't kill me, either; right now, I think the ride did that.

Pain is just weakness leaving the body. All of my weakness must be out there on the road now.


  1. Your a sick boy Melvin. I rode a 100 in the hills yesterday and 50 this morning in Flatwoods and thought I had a decent weekend of mileage.

  2. Nice job on the blog as usual, but if you don't mind I would like to offer up an explanation as to why everyone was getting out the Summerfield Control so quickly. It didn't have anything to do with having a fast ride time as one would normally assume. It actually had to do with a customer that had such bad B.O. that flies were dropping out of the air.

    -Steve Phillips