Monday, May 16, 2011

Missing the Turn

I hate missing a turn on a brevet.

For those of you who aren't randonneurs, when you miss a turn on a brevet you usually end up retracing your steps back to where you screwed up, and then get back on the route. We call it "bonus miles." You may be at the control, but if you didn't get there the way you were supposed to get there, you have to go back. On really long brevets, this can mean an extra 20 miles or more ... that's not just 20 miles more in your legs, it's the lost time that it takes you to ride those 20 extra miles. That's hours of sleep that you won't get or -- worse of all -- missing the closing time at a control, and not getting credit for the ride.

Fortunately, this past weekend I didn't ride any brevets, because I missed a lot of turns.

Saturday, RandoGirl and I rode the tandem on the Big Hill Challenge out in Watertown, TN. This is the annual century hosted by the Veloteers, and uses some of the same roads as a 200K that we often run.

It was a drizzly day, but we like to support our fellow cycling clubs, so a bunch of us from the Harpeth Bicycle Club went out. Most of the time, RandoGirl and I were with Jeff Bauer and Fredia Barry on Jeff's tandem, although we did a couple of long stretches either by ourselves or with some other HBC folks. It was just RandoGirl and I when we went up Big Hill Road, and we preferred that since we like to keep our suffering to ourselves. After that, we were chased by possibly every dog in Wilson County as we zipped along the ridge, and thus decided to find strength in numbers for the last 50 miles of the ride.

About mile 90 (I think), it was just the tandems, and we somehow missed a turn. We knew that we had missed it when we got to an intersection and there were no arrows.

Now, again, if this was a brevet, we would have turned around and gone back looking for the correct turn. But this was a "t-shirt ride," and the sign at the intersection said to turn right to get back to Watertown.

So we did.

Of course, the road was a little busy, so we soon started looking for arrows indicating where we were supposed to have turned. About two miles in, we found the painted road markings and turned left, thinking that we were now back on the route.

Maybe we were, and maybe we weren't, but after a couple of miles the route looked familiar. I recognized a turn from our outbound trek in the morning, and kept looking for other arrows indicating "Inbound" or "Return." Nothing. Finally, at mile 100, we pulled out RandoGirl's GPS and checked it, just to discover that we were steadily moving away from Watertown.


After a brief discussion, we decided to retrace our route. We then started down another way, thinking it might be the turn that we had missed. The GPS advised against it. So we decided to head back to the busy road that we knew went to Watertown. The GPS said that it would be shorter to make an unmarked left turn. Since the arrows from our outbound route that morning came from that road, we opted to follow the commands of our new robotic master, and turned left.

Eventually, we got back to Watertown, with a nice 111-mile century under our belts. Hooray.

You would think that doing 111 miles on a blustery mid-May day would have been enough, right? Well, Sunday morning Jeff and I drove out to Cookeville -- through lots of rain and wind and unseasonable cold -- to ride.

This time, the goal was to test some roads that I want to use on my as-yet-unfiled Honest Abe 200K permanent. Basically, I wanted to see what a road looked like that Google maps had suggested.

The weather was dismal, so we hedged our bets and drove down to Gainesboro rather that park at the "official" start location in Cookeville. As we turned on the new part of the course, Big Bottom Road (makes you think of that Queen song, doesn't it?), I thought that we had a winner. It was beautiful ... running within sight of the Cumberland river, with just enough roll to make things interesting, and plenty of trees to keep it cool. We could hear the rain start up again at times, but the trees kept us moderately drier as we cycled down the traffic-free road.

About nine miles in, we discovered why the road had been so empty when the pavement suddenly ended. The surface was fairly good, with well-packed gravel, so we kept going. A truck came along, and stopped just past us to move a fallen branch. We talked to the driver, who told us about the bridge that had been washed out and replaced up ahead, and where we should keep watch on the right for some nesting eagles. He then drove on, heading for some early Sunday fishing.

The road was still gorgeous ... just not paved. We shifted down and stayed there, riding more like mountain bikers than randonneurs, avoiding the loose gravel patches and feathering brakes down most of the short descents. We forded one rocky stream, and walked our bikes over two rickety bridges. It was muddy -- as you would expect after three days of rain -- but not so bad that it gummed up our drivetrains or other components.

We continued straight off of Big Bottom Road onto Brimstone Creek Road, and then came to a field where dogs were chasing two horses, trying to get them back to a corral. A lady on a four-wheeler passed us, told us not to worry about the dogs, and then zoomed off after her horses. Just past this, the pavement returned, and one of the dogs trotted after us as we started up a mean one-mile climb. He wasn't looking for trouble so much as he was looking for company, and turned back for home just before we all reached the top.

After rolling past more farms, we soon reached the store that I had planned to use as the control for this route: Cherry's Grocery in Moss, TN. Run by Mr. Cherry and his wife, he fixed Jeff and I an excellent turkey and cheese sandwich, then hung out on the front porch for a while talking about working for a Nashville grocery chain 40 years ago, and a girl that he had met before the war. A customer came in, and we had to roll on down the road, so he headed back inside. We told him we would be back.

There were times on the gravel when I thought that we might have made a wrong turn, but we stuck with it. What Jeff and I found is that sometimes a wrong turn is the right way to go.

1 comment:

  1. I've been studying gravel grinders and long distance unpaved races (Dirty Kanzaa, TransIowa). This sounds like a great route. Please don't let the gravel be a deterrent.