This past Saturday, my bike club -- the Harpeth Bike Club -- hosted their 16th annual Harpeth River Ride.
Earlier this week, I called this a "t-shirt ride." Now, this isn't necessarily a derogatory term -- it just means that this isn't a race, so that there are no awards. Instead, you do the ride and you get a t-shirt. Since most of these rides also feed you lunch, you could call it a lunch ride, but then what would people call their Thursday noon 20-mile mini-race around the office complex with their co-workers?
But my point is that the Harpeth River Ride has now progressed beyond being a t-shirt ride. It is now, officially, an Event.
First off, we had famous people there.
Yep, that's right. That is Kevin Bullock captaining Mark Montgomery on a tandem. Mark is blind, and he finished his first century just three weeks ago with Kevin. They did another metric at the River Ride.
I think the guy next to them is famous, too. Lance Something or other. Kevin had to help him reset his bike computer.
Lance brought Bjorn Selander and Ben King with him, and they all did the century. They even stopped at a couple of rest stops and ate cookies and other goodies, just like real people.
RandoGirl and I did get to ride with Lance for the first few miles, sort of. We were in an elite bunch of about 50 bikes, with other tandems being stoked by riders from the Tennessee Association of Blind Athletes and the United States Association of Blind Athletes, as well as a bunch of Wounded Warrior cyclists from Fort Campbell and some Nissan executives. Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee, Mayor Karl Dean of Nashville, and Mayor Ken Moore of Franklin also rode.
Behind us all were a half-dozen police and state troopers, followed by 1,500 people who paid to ride and were champing at the bit to zoom up and ride with Lance. Since, as I said, Lance and his Radio Shack teammates actually stopped at some of the rest stops, many of them actually did get to meet him. From what I heard, he was very nice and willing to sign stuff.
I mentioned that some Nissan executives were in the pack. Nissan is the main sponsor of this ride, and they do a LOT. They loan us much of their headquarters for the weekend. They got Lance for us. They brought in folks with timing chips, so people could know how fast they rode. They brought in extra t-shirts with Tour of California stuff, and had cool cars for folks to look at while they hung around. Like I said: A LOT.
My friend Bill Glass and I went out early Friday morning and checked the routes, touched up markings, and swept some gravel and debris off a few roads. We got back to Nissan headquarters just before lunch and everybody is running around setting up and it is HUGE. Bigger than any other ride that I have ever seen, including the starts and finishes of the Tour de Georgia.
While I'm there, I check my e-mail, and I see that I've got two messages from folks at work asking if I can get them or their friends into the ride. You see, we capped the ride at 1,500, and we hit that mark Wednesday, and these folks had thought that they could just walk up. You usually can just walk up and register for a t-shirt ride.
But this was an Event. You can't just walk up and register for an Event.
I'd like to tell you what it was like riding with Lance, but I have no idea. We let the TNABA and USABA and Wounded Warriors riders hang out with him up front, and RandoGirl and I rode the tandem further back, keeping an eye on stuff.
Mostly, we rode next to Governor Haslam. He was on a nice new Lynskey that he bought from The Greatest Bike Shop in The Universe, Gran Fondo. And he rode it well. He seemed really comfortable on it, and had no trouble with the pace.
I had assumed that he was there for political reasons -- for Nissan or because he knew that there would be lots of media -- but, as we rode, I got the feeling that he was more there because he wanted to meet Lance Armstrong, but also wanted to ride his bike. We talked about riding in middle Tennessee, and where the good roads are. It's tough for him to get out, but he does every chance that he can. He was telling me about some of the great climbs back home in Knoxville, and we swapped a few stories about routes out that way.
About seven miles in, we pulled off the route and started back towards Nissan. Kevin and Mark came with us, since they were just going to do our 18-mile VIP loop and then go out on the 44-mile route. It was a nice ride, at a good pace, with everybody working just hard enough that we earned some fitness, but not so hard that we couldn't talk.
Back at Nissan, Kevin and Mark headed back out. The governor sent his state trooper escort off, and then asked if we could go out for another 10 miles, since he had about another hour open. There was no media, and Nissan wouldn't care one way or the other. The governor was just another guy that wanted to ride his bike.
We went back out and did a couple of stiff climbs, including McEwen Road by McKay's Mill. Then he had to leave, but he thanked us while his driver loaded up his bike. We even talked about loaning him a tandem to ride with his wife.
It was kind of cool riding near Lance Armstrong for a few miles. But what really made me happy was to ride with the governor of the state that I live in, and have him want to go back out and ride more just for the fun of it. This is my kind of guy -- a person who is going to do something for cyclists just because he gets it. It probably doesn't matter much to him -- which is even more cool -- but he won my vote and RandoGirl's come the next election.