With winter being what it's been this year, any time you get a tiny window of decent weather you better jump right through it. Saturday was one of those windows, and so -- although there was a perfectly good 200K available less than an hour's drive in Watertown, TN -- Jeff Bauer and I drove five hours Friday evening down to Athens, GA, to do the Audax Atlanta 300K.
There were other factors, of course. It was a good opportunity to see some of the Georgia randonneurs with whom we have so often ridden before, and the route was reportedly excellent. Plus, it gave us a chance to go ahead and get in the 300K for the series that we would need this year, just in case the Tennessee 300K at the end of this month is not so lucky regarding temperatures and precipitation.
Following a brief breakfast that the host hotel graciously prepared early for us, we rolled out into the pre-dawn dark at 6 am onto quiet roads. Jeff and I found ourselves riding with a fast bunch as the sun slowly rose, passing through (literally) the first control -- a covered bridge -- as the first hints of pearl tinged the eastern gloom ahead.
For most of the first half of the ride, Jeff and I rode with various Georgia riders, including his old Gran Fondo Fixies teammate from RAAM, Kevin Kaiser. Although Jeff had gears, Kevin was riding a fixed-gear bike. The fairly flat terrain -- just over 8,000 feet of climbing over the full 192-mile course -- lent itself to that kind of bike, but Kevin later had stomach issues that forced him to cut his ride short.
Also with us for much of the day was Kevin's brother, Chris, who had just completed RAAM as part of a four-person team.
Chris had also been part of our Gran Fondo Fixies crew, as well as crewing for Kevin on his two subsequent solo RAAM finishes.
About 70 miles in, we stopped at an information control at the Georgia Guidestones.
Here, Jeff and I tried to make ourselves into matching sundials.
The Guidestones are a set of perpendicular monoliths, aligned in such a way as to provide various astronomical tricks. For example, the picture below is a hole that always points at the North Star.
Supposedly, nobody knows who paid to have these erected. After it went up, I don't know if there were any Cro-Magnon men beating one another with the jawbone of some beast, but doubt it since they've only been up since 1979.
From here, the course took a long out-and-back to the Richard B. Russell State Park, on the border with South Carolina. We rode much of this stretch with Andy Akard and Robert Macleod. The day had warmed up enough by then that they were able to show off their stylish new Audax Atlanta wool jerseys.
There were hints of spring's coming everywhere, with some trees finally beginning to bud and miles of daffodils dotting the landscape.
The course turned west at this point, and we soon realized how much we had been enjoying a tailwind. Of course, you never notice a slight tailwind as much as you suffer with that same headwind. The 15 miles to Royston were tougher as a result, and Jeff and I were happy to stop at the Wendy's there for lunch. We were just finishing as Kevin and Chris came in, and they looked as if they had been working hard out there as well.
The miles had taken more of a toll on me than I had thought, and I sat in on Jeff for most of the next stretch to the control in Commerce. The break helped, as did eating some pretzel bits and drinking a cream soda at the store. We missed a turn leaving town and got in some extra miles on a busy road, but this worked out well since we soon caught up to Julie Gazmarian and her husband, Paul Foster.
Jeff and I have ridden many times with Julie, but it was my first chance to ride with Paul. They are both super-strong riders and good folks to talk with in the late afternoon hours of a very long brevet. The miles passed comfortably with them as we rolled into the penultimate control, a Waffle House on US-78.
Jeff and I stopped to eat something, and Julie and Paul rode on. Soon, Chris came in, and we all put on our night-riding gear as we headed out into the sunset. The wind was dying, but was finally at our backs again.
We only ended up riding about half an hour in the dark. Chris had a flat on his front tire about two miles from the finish, but we still made it back to the hotel about 8:30 pm.
My legs felt great, and should hopefully be able to survive the tough 400K in Cookeville, TN, next month. We avoided the rain that came in that evening, stayed relatively warm, saw lots of old friends, and generally had a good ride. It was a good window to jump through.