Wednesday, May 25, 2011

200 Kilometers of Nowhere

Cyclists regularly spend a lot of time and energy on trips that ultimately go nowhere. We load the bike onto the back of the car, drive out into the country, and then ride a big loop. Maybe we stop at a convenience store, or cruise down some quiet lane with a bunch of friends, or climb over Mt. Somethingorother, but ultimately we end up back at our cars, loading the bike back on the rack, and then driving home.

Friends ask us: Where did you ride this weekend? We tell them the name of the town / mountain / road, or the group that we were with. Or we say that we just did a little training ride from the house. But usually, we went nowhere and did nothing other than enjoy some time on a bike, gain some fitness, and maybe buy another Gatorade and package of cheese crackers at a small country store.

In that regard, this past Saturday was nothing different for me and a bunch of other area cyclists. We went nowhere. The only difference is that we went nowhere five times, and did it to help fight cancer.

The event was the 200K of Nowhere – the middle-Tennessee ultra version of Fat Cyclist’s 100 Miles of Nowhere. The stated goal was to raise money for LiveStrong in honor of our friend, Peter Lee, who cancer killed this past November.

The real goal, however, was to ride 200 kilometers – 125 miles – on great roads, in lovely weather, with nice people. Peter wanted to get more folks out riding brevets, and what better way than to let them “test-ride” a 200K on a great marked course, with access to food and drink at the end of each loop?

Eleven of us signed up for the ride via Twin Six’s website. Many of these riders could not do the full 200K. RandoGirl had decided before the ride that 100 miles was plenty, and Alan Gosart agreed with her after the first four laps. A couple of the riders had other commitments, and were only able to squeeze in one or two laps, or couldn’t come out until late. As a result, only four of us did at least 200 kilometers … but everyone had fun.

A group of six started the ride just after 6 am, from the parking lot at the Community Center in College Grove. Lisa Starmer biked down from her house, but got there just after we had left. She only had time to do one loop before heading back home, but enjoyed the route.

The previous week, I had marked all of the turns on the roads with white chevrons labeled “W.K. LEE” (for Peter, whose Chinese name was “Wing Kong Lee”). Unfortunately, the area is so popular with cyclists that there were other similar markings, allowing riders a couple of opportunities to get slightly lost. Since any of these “missed” turns would eventually put the rider back on the route, however -- albeit with a couple of “lost” miles, it was all good.

In spite of having almost 1,500 feet of climbing – including Choctaw Road and Pulltight Hill – we all finished the first 27-mile loop in just over an hour and a half. Alan and I even had a fun town-line sprint coming in to Bethesda. Everyone topped off their bottles from the coolers in the back of my SUV (the “Watzzwagen”), grabbed something to eat, and rolled back out for another lap. Bruce Miller and Dave Harris had shown up by then, so they joined the fun. RandoGirl and I had a longer stop at the grocery store, buying a couple more bags of ice and such, so we went out a little later to do the lap by ourselves.

Going up Pulltight this time, RandoGirl commented that the RB+RG marking was still there. I had painted it two years ago for a club ride on this road, and so tried to grab a quick picture.


Since I knew that I would be passing this way again in a few hours, I did not turn back to try the shot again.

Although the temperatures in Nashville had dropped precipitously earlier in the week, the warm weather was rebounding strong on Saturday. The cicadas were going crazy, dive-bombing us and setting up a low throbbing hum that made me think that a flying saucer was about to attack us with a death ray at any minute. We were glad to get back to the Watzzwagen without an "X-Files moment."

After filling up bottles and eating a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, RandoGirl and I went out on our third loop. The wind was picking up now, but was only a little work going down Bethesda-Arno Road. It was in our face on the long stretch on Comstock Road, but as this road begins with a fairly long climb followed by an even longer descent, wind is usually not a problem there.

As we rode, RandoGirl and I both noticed how, with the way the route twists and turns, you rarely end up with prolonged stretches into any kind of wind. It is an almost perfect mix of sun and shade, flat and hilly. And each of the hills is rewarded by fun downhills with just enough twist to keep it interesting without letting you go so fast as to be dangerous.
On this loop, RandoGirl and I took a five-mile shortcut by staying on Giles Hill Road. This kept her closer to the 100 miles that she wanted, and me closer to the 125 miles that I wanted. It also cut out the tough climbs on Choctaw and Pulltight Hill ... but that was just dumb luck.

Dave Perrault and Alan were waiting for us at the Watzzwagen this time. As we ate and talked, Jeff Bauer and George Hiscox came in, grabbed food and drink, and left again. Alan was having some trouble, since he has not been able to ride as much lately as an ultra-cyclist of his caliber usually does. I sent RandoGirl and Dave back out, and kept Alan company as we started the next loop. Eventually, however, he sent me on my way, and I did another 27-mile circuit. This time, I was able to get the shot going up Pulltight.

I got back to the Watzzwagen just after Dave and RandoGirl. Since she had now finished her 103 miles, Dave and I went out to do one more 22-mile loop. My hip was starting to bother me as we skipped the turn onto Choctaw, climbing Giles Hill again.

Back on Arno-Allisona Road, I told Dave to follow the road markings and took it easy for the last few miles. Pulling into the parking lot for the final time, RandoGirl, Dave, and Alan cheered. I grabbed a Diet Coke from the back of the Watzzwagen, and we all hung out on the tennis courts.

Five minutes later, Vida Greer and Mary Beth Chawan came by. They had signed up for the 200K, but also had to help support the local Tour de Nash ride that morning. Since thunderstorms were just beginning to rumble, they didn't get to stay long, and soon jumped back on their bikes to head home.

About the time that they left, George Hiscox and Jeff Bauer came in. They had been "purists," sticking to the 27-mile route for each of the five loops to do a total of 135 miles. Since each of them is signed up for 1200-kilometer rides this summer -- George in Colorado and Jeff doing the infamous Paris-Brest-Paris -- they needed the extra miles.

Now that looks like a man who is going nowhere for a while.

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