Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ride Report: Cruisin' in the Country Century

I considered doing this ride two years ago, and this year I noticed it was on my one free weekend in two months. It seemed silly to drive over 200 miles each way, but it also sounded like my kind of ride--flat and good food.

I didn't get out of a department seminar until after 4, so I drove back roads across Georgia (77, 17, US 1) mostly in the dark. I did find a Dutch kitchen restaurant to eat dinner and got to the Scottish Inn in Metter Georgia around 9. The ride is so big and so much in the middle of nowhere that I hadn't been able to find a hotel closer than about 20 miles. Claxton is about 60 miles west of Savannah, but I drove almost the whole way through towns I had never heard of.

In the morning I ate a big breakfast at a Waffle House and drove to Claxton by a back route. I checked in and set out on the ride a few minutes before 8 am. I knew it was supposed to get warm but it was very chilly so I wore tights, heavy wool socks, and a short sleeved jersey with armwarmers and vest. The ride does not have a mass start, so while there were over 700 riders, they were spread out all the way. Even if I had been riding alone I would never have been lonely.

But I wasn't riding alone--about 5 miles into the ride I struggled to catch up with a man wearing a Black Bear Bicycle Tours jersey and draft off him, and we decided to ride together. He was doing his first century and he had already made a wrong turn and ridden about 10 extra miles. We were matched well for speed (he was at least 15 years older than me) and we rode the whole way together and kept each other going. My Garmin shows an average of 15.2 mph but I forgot to turn it on after one rest stop for about 10 miles, and that was early in the ride when we were going faster. Our elapsed time was a few minutes over 8 hours.

The ride was as advertised--I very much recommend it. Wind shirts instead of T shirts plus hats for those who finish the century. Mostly empty country roads, sometimes through cotton fields. Not as flat as the century at Festivelo, but very gradual up and down. And great rest stops every 10 miles--homemade goodies and different food at each one. The organizations that do the rest stops compete for an award (extra money for their fundraising efforts) for the best rest stops. The 4H club had a Halloween theme and was in costume.

We had one scary moment, on a slightly busier road. A car passed us and then almost immediately put on its left turn signal and pulled over to the right, all the way to the edge of the road. I was leading and I braked and rode off the road into the grass. My riding partner Thurmond tried to go around the car on the grass but there was a sandy area and his bike slid and he fell. He gave the drive a good cursing and we rode off.

The most significant hills on the course were in the last five miles, so we were definitely dragging into the finish. But at the finish there was not only food--grilled chicken as well as hot dogs and hamburgers--but also a shower truck with hot showers!

Thus refreshed I decided I was up to driving the 4 hours home rather than stopping at another motel. It was 5 pm when I left, so I wasn't going to be late getting home, but I was driving those back roads mostly in the dark. And about an hour and a half from home I hit a deer. Luckily it hit the front quarter of my car, not head on. It was very dark and so I kept driving. It looked like my lights still covered the whole road ahead of me and the car felt ok, so I thought maybe I had gotten off easy. Half an hour later when I finally came to a gas station and stopped to look at the damage to my car I discovered that it was very hard to turn and my right front lights were smashed. I drove the rest of the way home nervously, but the car actually felt ok except when I had to turn. Only when I got home did I discover the right front door doesn't open. I had thought I might get another year out of my Ford Escort stationwagon, but it did have 170,000 miles on it. Now I hope my insurance company doesn't give me a hard time about not having stopped and called the police. I know what I want--a Honda Element--but they are so much in demand I'm not finding good prices on used ones.

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