When I find something really incredible, the second thing that goes through my mind is, "So-and-so will really enjoy this." (The first thing is, "How can I do this again?")
Usually "so-and-so" is RandoGirl, which is probably why I go touring with her and drag her out to some of my favorite spots on the road. I spend a lot of my rides seeing things that I know she would also enjoy, and then I forget to tell her about them.
Other "so-and-so's" are randonneuring friends, or friends in my bike club, or you -- the loyal reader. I have been known to write blogs in my head; they're funnier than these pale imitations that you get to read.
Anyway, this need to share is why one of my favorite things to do is to design bicycle routes. Whether it's a Saturday spin, a permanent, the club century, a new 400K, or just somebody's route in to work, I am always willing to get out the maps and build someone a cue sheet. I take it as something of a challenge really -- hobbling together quiet streets and quaint country stores, and then getting everybody past a busy intersection by slipping through the back door. It's like drawing the solution to a maze populated by minotaurs driving loud red pickup trucks.
I've had a couple of routes percolating in the back of my mind for the past few months, and Saturday was finally my chance to get out with a couple of friends and work one of those routes out. Right now, we're calling it the Choctaw 200K. I may rename it the "Little Asses and Wild Turkey" route, after the most common variant of wildlife that we encountered.
One of the goals when I designed this ride was to have it start and end near good food, so the first control is the Starbuck's in downtown Franklin. It was about 6 am when Jeff Bauer and I got there -- three other cyclists were sitting around outside. Obviously, this was a good place to start a ride.
Vida and Lynn Greer rode with us. Although Lynn had to get to the shop (Gran Fondo), he hung with us down to Bethesda, and so got to enjoy the first two climbs on the route -- Arno Road and Pull Tight Hill.
Soon, we were rolling over Choctaw Road (for which the route may be named), Giles Hill, Flat Creek, and down Reynolds. This is when we hit the "exploring" part of the route, working from Google maps and route sheets from other area rides. We stumbled upon a county line, and I was able to win the sprint for it. Mostly, the roads were flat, with decent surfaces and barely any traffic.
We got on Lewisburg Pike then, heading more directly south. This was one of the roads that had me worried, but we were far enough from towns that the few cars there were had no trouble passing us.
A mile or two down, we came upon one of the spots that I had noted on my map and wanted to check out -- Marcy Jo's Bakery. The parking lot was full of motorcyclists, including our friend Kevin Bullock. We decided to stop and get a second breakfast.
This place was definitely worth it, and should almost be a control. I have since added it to the cue sheet as an optional stop, and Vida wants to use this destination the next time she runs a Saturday ride for the bike club.
Our furnaces stoked, we continued south on Lewisburg Pike, crossing a couple of county lines. Vida and Jeff were ready this time, and they each took one.
Eventually, we returned to quieter roads to begin working our way west. As is often the case with quieter roads, the surface was often less than optimal.
We were all riding along together when we came to this spot, where the road itself had apparently flooded a long, long time ago. The area to the left of the road was exposed rock -- ridable, but you needed to be careful. Vida says the Rapha guys call this "Vitamin G" (for Gravel).
While I took a picture and Vida posed, Jeff realized the reason that this road was in such awful shape: It was at the edge of the county. If you haven't ridden in the South much, this is common -- the "it ain't my jurisdiction" issue often affects roads, bridges, fields, and culverts. Jeff pulled a Contador and stole the county-line sprint while Vida and I were attempting to chronicle our adventure. This temporarily put him into the maillot meh of brevet leader.
A little further, and we encountered another tricky portion of our maze.
Here we have Vaughn Road, New Vaughn Road, and Vaughn Road. We tried New Vaughn first, but it didn't seem right. According to the GPS, we were supposed to take Vaughn Road, so we turned right.
As you can see from the above downloaded track and the GPS maps, we should have been able to get to that intersection and continue. According to the map, this was the right way.
According to reality, the road was closed at the creek. I am so glad that I regularly pay another $100 to Garmin for updated maps for my GPS. See how handy they are?
Jeff was going to jump it, but forgot his parachute.
Fortunately, this was an exploratory trip -- we were supposed to discover things like this, right? So, we retraced our route, went down New Vaughn to where it ended on Hwy 50, and continued west on that. It was not as picturesque as the route that I had planned, but it got us to the control without jumping a creek.
The Glendale Market was selling ice, as well as donkeys. We bought a bag and filled everything up, since the sun had now come out and it was officially becoming Hot. We then headed westward over a series of gently rolling hills, through fields of corn and cattle, with brief shady periods in calm cool forests. By the time we reached the Mt. Pleasant control, we were pretty hungry.
This restaurant was a little too nice for sweaty, stinky bicyclists, but we were not impressed with the McDonald's and other little spots in town. Inside, the lunch counter was cool, comfortable, and quick. Jeff and I each had a malted, while Vida got an ice cream cone.
From here we had one last "unknown" road, taking TN-166 to Hampshire. It had a couple of longer climbs than I had anticipated, but was generally pretty good.
Once on US-412 in Hampshire, we picked up one of my old club routes. We climbed up to Ridgetop, going past one of my favorite bed and breakfasts and a good winery, before zipping down Cathey's Creek Road. There, we came upon a huge turtle lying in the road. We couldn't determine if he was supposed to be so flat, but we could tell that he was not dead. Vida picked him up and flipped him into the weeds, where he at least stood a chance of recovering.
You cannot go on a ride with Vida without her rescuing something.
I really enjoyed this part of the route, since Jeff and Vida had never been in this area. Cathey's Creek is always beautiful, followed by long climbs and tough rollers on Love Branch, Kettle Mills, and Greenfield Bend Road.
This is the ridge on which Greenfield Bend runs, looking down towards Williamsport.
We stopped again at the Williamsport store, and then continued north on Snow Creek Road and Leiper's Creek to Water Valley. Vida took the pace up there, saying she was "smelling the barn," and pulled us along at about 24 mph. We slowed down a bit past Fly, and then she started again as we climbed the hill before Boston Community. I sensed that she was trying to steal the town-line sprint there, and so I hung on and swooped past her over the top. Since I outweigh Vida by 70 pounds (counting my bike ... or maybe even if you don't), it was easy for me to take that last sprint on the downhill.
With 110 miles down, Vida turned off north for home while Jeff and I climbed Bear Creek, working our way back to Franklin. There, we were finally able to indulge ourselves with another of the advantages of starting a ride from a good-sized town.
Maybe I should call this "One Sweet Ride."