Sunday, April 28, 2013

TdF (Tour de Flood)

There's a wonderful thing that can happen sometimes when you go out for a long ride on a crappy-looking day, knowing that you're just out there to slog through some miles and keep a little tone in your legs: You set the expectations for the day so low that you are almost bound to exceed them.

It rained all day Saturday. A lot. I'm talking flooded streets, leaky basements, and some really nasty chafe for the folks doing the Music City Marathon in downtown Nashville. It slacked during the afternoon, then came back for one last blast during the wee hours Sunday morning.

But RandoGirl and I needed to ride, so about 9 am we headed out into the cool, cloudy, ominous day. We weren't even able to head out via our usual route, since it was flooded, and instead had to go down busier Southall Road to Leiper's Fork. Along the way, we saw this.

That's the Harpeth River. It's usually not that wide there. In fact, it got so wide there that it turned the field next to it into a lake.

A little closer to Leiper's Fork, it had apparently been higher earlier.

But the river had returned to it's almost-normal size when we got there after 9 am.

So, we're riding on these wet roads, worried about some of them being closed, and RandoGirl has a good idea: Let's take the Trace down, instead. One good thing about the Natchez Trace is that, since it's a very well-made Federal road, it drains well and they've built it up to avoid flood-prone areas. It was, indeed, a much drier road for us to take, and the sun even came out once or twice on the way to Hwy 7 and the store in Fly.

We had a candy bar and filled bottles, then got on Leiper's Creek Road heading towards Watertown.

Leiper's Creek itself was also pretty high, but wasn't flooding. Watertown looked ... well, watery.


RandoGirl, on the other hand, looked spiffy on her new Specialized Ruby.

The wind had come up by then. It was blowing the clouds away, but made it tough to go southwest. Fortunately, at this point we were able to turn east on Water Valley Road and climb up and over the ridge to Santa Fe with the wind almost at our backs.

We stopped in the market there for another candy bar and more drinks, then worked our way over some hills to the end of Dark's Mill Road. All of the creeks down that way are normally pretty quiet, and seemed to be doing fine. We took the long climb up Theta Pike, and then down again to Knob Creek Road.

Knob Creek itself was up, but was staying away from the nice smooth fresh pavement.

A warning to whoever buys that hay: It may be a little wet.

Even Theta, at the top of Knob Creek, had a bunch of leftover water.

We came down Sulphur Springs Branch Road. The branch was washing over the top of this fellow's driveway ... but just barely.

A little ways past this, the storm had blown a tree down. It was only blocking one lane, however, and Sulphur Springs Branch Road is so quiet that we had no trouble getting by.

Back on Leiper's Creek Road, we had our miles in and the wind was behind us. We quickly zipped northeast on the fairly flat (and dry) road, stopping at Puckett's for lunch. A band named Local Reverb was playing inside, and we listed to them for almost an hour while we got our food and ate. They seemed to be able to play almost anything from Glen Campbell to surf music, and were another example of the incredible wealth of musical talent available in this town.

We still had chores to do back home, unfortunately, so we got on our bikes to ride the short two miles to our house. Along the way, we found that the Harpeth River was still up.

About half a mile further down, we came across a half-dozen cyclists from New York and Seattle, WA. They were finishing up a tour that they had begun in Natchez, staying in hotels as they biked up the Trace, and were on their way to the end of their tour in Franklin.

We apologized for not having better weather, but they didn't seem to mind it a bit. They'd apparently had a great trip, and loved the beautiful scenery and fabulous roads. And, the more that RandoGirl and I thought about it, the more we realized that they were right ... we live in the middle of cycling heaven.

Sometimes it just takes a low-expectation ride on a dreary day to make you realize how good you've got it.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Roads Less Travelled

This past Saturday, Jeff Bauer, Alan Gosart, and I went to Baxter, TN, to ride the Green Acres 200K permanent. We were all trying to remember the last time that we did this permanent -- consensus was that it had been at least a couple of years -- and could not remember why it had been so long.

The weather was excellent -- a little chilly at the start, winds lighter than they have been (it's been a rough spring), and no chance of rain. The miles passed easily as we rolled through Smithville and on to Rock Island State Park.

We had a quick second breakfast at the Rock Island Cafe, and then headed for Fall Creek Falls State Park. This meant that we got to return to a place that we had enjoyed two weekends before: Baker Mountain Road.

Just to make things interesting, we also decided to try a different way up the mountain. I had often wondered about J.P. Hale Road, which Hwy 30 and Baker Mountain Road. So we tried it.

About 100 yards from Hwy 30, the pavement on J.P. Hale Road ended and we were climbing gravel with an easy grade. Within half a mile, it was a 15% grade, occasionally pitching up towards "ouch" steep. The gravel was also the small stuff, which tends to shift and spin out from under your wheels.

Needless to say, we all walked part of this road. When we got to the top, we saw that they were putting up a cell tower.

You know you're at the top of the climb when you see a cell tower.

There was another quarter-mile or so of gravel, and then the pavement returned for the last quarter-mile. Jeff and I were telling Alan about how Old Baker Mountain Road was probably as steep as J.P. Hale Road, but at least it was paved. Alan said that he had never been up Old Baker Mountain Road, so since it was right there when J.P. Hale Road ended, we took it.

Alan was riding very strong, getting ready to do the Gold Rush Randonnee 1200K again this summer, and he zipped up ahead of us. Unlike Baker Mountain Road, there were no cars here ... just as there had been no cars on J.P. Hale Road.

When we used to ride this route more regularly, it was later in the year. Since spring had just sprung, and since Old Baker Mountain Road is closer to the edge of the ridge, you could see a long way down into the valley towards McMinnville. This house near the top of the road had an incredible view.

The sign is pretty cool, too:

Sure, we didn't need to go up those roads -- they weren't even on the route -- but we were glad that we did. Very often, the harder road is the one less-travelled. Aside from the personal victory of knowing that you took it, the harder road has hidden rewards.