Have you ever staffed one of those rest areas, tables, or controls? If not, then I have two things to say to you:
- For shame!
- How sad!
And "how sad" is because it's a ton of fun. You hear great stories, see some bizarre stuff, and get to experience the joy of helping somebody succeed in accomplishing something that is really, really, really hard.
Saturday, Jeff and I paid it forward by supporting the Tennessee 400K out of Cookeville. We had ridden the route the week before, so we were already official. All we had to do was stock the hotel room with food and supplies -- much of which was provided by Gran Fondo Cycles in Nashville (a.k.a., the Greatest Bike Shop in the Universe) -- and then check everyone's bikes Friday night for lights and whatnot. Saturday morning, we all assembled in the parking lot and I gave them last-minute instructions. Since we were up anyway, Jeff and I decided to go out with them and do the 200K route.
As we had started at 5 AM, it was dark for the first hour. The sun was just coming up as we approached the descent down towards the Roaring River, but we couldn't see it -- neither the sun nor the river -- thanks to a thick fog.
It was cold riding along the river, of course, but the group rode hard. Tom Gee -- an almost legendary cyclist in both randonneuring and racing circles -- had come out, along with his teammate Justin Lowe. Also in this pack were James Buttrey and Mark Young, who also race and are well-known speed demons of the Harpeth Bike Club.
Barry Meade had come down from Hopkinsville, KY, and was in this fast pack, as was John Pasch. They made it easy for Jeff and I to almost coast as we rode the first 30 miles in a little over an hour and a half.
The 200K follows the old Avery Trace race route, while the 400K goes up towards Red Boiling Springs. Jeff and I were sad to turn off to stay on Hwy 135 and lose the group, but I was kind of glad to get a chance to slow down.
By the time we got to the top of the climb on this road, the fog had lifted. There was a light breeze blowing from the south, and you could tell it was going to be a gorgeous day.
We stopped briefly at the first control, Cherry's Grocery in Moss, TN, and then headed for Celina, TN. There, I scarfed a couple of sausage biscuits at the Dairy Queen before we continued up Hwy 52. Since we were not "official" (we would be getting credit for last week's 400K on this day, and couldn't be doing a 200K on the same day), we went directly up Hwy 52. The shoulder was good and the climb was more gradual than the "real" route, but it cut out two kilometers. Since this 200K was actually 202K in length, modifying it this way would be an acceptable change.
Soon, we entered Standing Stone State Park.
Going over the old stone bridge there, I tried to get a picture and dropped my camera. Since I had to stop to pick it up, I decided to take my time and get a decent picture of the little park just down the hill.
It took me a few miles to catch up to Jeff after that. We made good time on Hilham Hwy, and were in Gainesboro about 10:30 AM. We stopped at the Subway control and each had a sandwich, and then retraced our route back into downtown Gainesboro where they were having a classic car show.
Jeff and I found this funny, since there had been a car show in Sparta last week when we went through there on the 400K.
The climb out of Gainesboro is tough, but the descent on the other side is the immediate payoff. We had not gotten to enjoy many of the other descents on this route, thanks to fog and whatnot, so this was a real joy.
We were both riding strong and feeling good, and we maintained a brisk pace all the way to Granville. Just before that little town on the Cumberland River, we ran into another cyclist, Eric Carlile, one of the Masters racers with MOAB. Jeff and I know a number of the MOAB guys from Nashville, and Eric joined us for a fast but pleasant climb up Hwy 96. He then pulled us at just under 20 mph most of the way down Hwy 70.
We turned off at Baxter, coming back to the control via Buffalo Valley Road. As we passed the Odd Fellows Cemetery, I looked at my watch and saw that we could almost finish in under eight hours.
Since that "almost" would have required a horrendous amount of hard work, we just did our best and finished in 8:20. We were pretty satisfied.
Next came the fun part. We got cleaned up and ordered pizzas, and even each ate a couple of slices before the first of the fast guys came in. Tom and Justin got to the hotel about 2:30 PM (152 miles in nine and a half hours -- not too shabby) followed by Mark and James about 10 minutes later. Mark and James had missed the turn to the information control in Standing Stone State Park, so they said that they would not be official finishers. Nonetheless, they wanted to ride the remaining 100 miles, and said that they would find a way to stretch it up to 250 miles ... just because they wanted to.
See what I mean about volunteering? Where else would you find somebody who wanted to do this kind of thing without any award or medal or certificate or even a t-shirt? Basically, they were riding for no other reason than the fact that they would know in their heart that they had done it.
Barry came in with Mike Corley and Bob Butsch, who were riding the 200K. While Mike and Bob got cleaned up and headed home, Barry ate some food and rested a few minutes before going back out to finish the 400K. John came in about this time, too, as did Glenn Hemstedt. They all ate some pizza, pretzels, sandwiches, and whatever else they could find, drinking cokes and water and Gatorade while recharging tired batteries, and then headed out back to the course.
Jeff and I were napping an hour later when Glenn came back, saying that he'd had enough. We started to try to get him to eat something and go back, but we could tell that he was pretty fried.
About 6 PM, Don and Ken Ward came in, followed almost immediately by Jeff Sammons and Russell Morris.
There was more pushing of food and drink and supplies, talk of how much they were enjoying the route, tales of confusing turns and irreverent dogs, and then out they went again. Unfortunately, Jeff Sammons stayed, saying that he had enjoyed enough of the course for one day.
Patrick Lamb had slept late and missed the start, so he was the last rider to come in to the hotel. Jeff and I had driven down to Spencer just before he came in, but Jeff Sammons was still at the hotel. It would have been difficult for Patrick to finish in time at that point, and he dropped out then.
Meanwhile, Jeff and I waited about half an hour in Spencer before Don, Russell, and Ken came in.
They were in very good spirits, in spite of having just finished the tough climb up Yates Mountain Road.
We had brought sandwiches, drinks, and other supplies. The three took a break and ate before putting on cold-weather gear and heading back out. Jeff and I then drove back to the hotel, where Tom and Justin had just finished the 400K.
They had actually made it to the McDonald's in Smithville as night was falling, but badly needed food there. If not for the hour they spent eating and resting, they probably would have finished in under 18 hours.
They had just left to get some sleep when John came in, also in good spirits.
Tom and Justin had seen Mark and James at the McDonald's, and John thought that he had seen them, too. They came in about 15 minutes later, and told us that they had ridden down Hwy 135 to get the seven miles that they had lost earlier in the route.
They may not have been "official," but they were real.
Almost immediately behind them was Barry.
He said that the rollers on TN-288 had worn him out. He would have stopped at the McDonald's, but there was a piece of dried-out chicken at the convenience store in Spencer and he had -- regrettably -- eaten that.
We knew that we had a few hours before the final three riders came in, so Jeff and I turned out the lights and slept. Almost exactly at 5 AM -- 24 hours after they started -- Russell, Ken, and Don came in.
We gave them some food, too, but they were pretty beat and left quickly for their rooms. Jeff and I then managed to get a few more hours of sleep before all of us went to Grandma's Pancakes, down 135 from the hotel, for a big breakfast.
It was a very full weekend, and one that left all of the riders with memories that will last a lifetime. They all appreciated the work that had gone into designing the route, organizing the ride, and the support that Jeff and I had provided at the hotel and on the road, and thanked us profusely.
Of course, they didn't need to thank us. Jeff and I have been on the receiving end of support enough times that we were just paying back people around the world, whose names we never knew and certainly couldn't remember had we been introduced in the delirium or exhaustion. Sometimes I can remember faces, or the taste of a hot bowl of food someone gave me, or the feeling of sitting down on something other than a saddle, my legs briefly pausing their incessant pedal-pumping. But I will always remember the feeling that somebody was out there willing to give up the only thing that any of us really have in this world -- time -- so that I could succeed, where alone I would have surely failed.
NOTE: If providing support like this is something that you think that you might want to do, we are hosting a 1500K Grand Randonnee on the Natchez Trace from September 22-28. We need any help that we can get, so if you've got some time go to our website and sign-up.