It’s extremely cold at the start, 40 degrees or so. I have lost all my acclimation to the cold as it’s been almost a month since I’ve ridden in anything less than 55 degrees or so. I put on all my clothes and choose my shoes with covers to keep out the chill. I end up a little late. The start was in a church parking lot with no facilities so I stop at the first gas station 1 mile into the ride. The other eight riders head on into the morning in a mass of blinking red lights as I dash into a Mapco to pee.
I spend a few miles riding by myself before catching the group right at the 200k/300k split I lollygag at the rear behind the four other riders before slowly moving to the front and riding away. I spend the next few miles disappearing up the road, winding around the foothills and in and out of the foggy dips in the terrain. The roads are smooth and then a little bumpy and narrow and then smooth again. We pass the Sumatanga Camp area and I see signs for a bike race later in the day as well as the support van roaming around, fun! Somewhere in there I take off my cold weather cap, my vest and my pullover as it warms up. I do this without stopping and am impressed with my on the bike acrobatics to make it happen. Everything stuffed into my Tangle frame bag makes it ballon out in the front but it seems fine and does not rub my legs. I fish around for snacks as needed. Shortly I am at the second control and the RBA, Bruce hops out of his car. We chat for a minute as he signs my card and then I am off.
The next section is quiet and secluded. There is a nice tailwind that pushes me along the chip seal and I can see for quite a few miles ahead as the terrain is flat and open. I reach the control and head inside for water, several members of a large family are slowly working through the bathrooms so I pass and decide to just pee up the road. Bruce appears as I exit the store and is excited to see how fast I am riding. He takes my picture and tells me that he is going to let everyone know that I am on fat tires and hammered fenders and still riding fast.
More tailwinds and smooth roads push me along. I stop to pee and get a few thorns hopping in and out of the bushes. A little blood and I feel silly but it’s fine. I am enjoying how scenic the ride has been. We will be on either side of the ridgeline the entire ride so there is always something to look at. I pass by an airport and a retail area, fast food restaurants billowing smoke into the air and delicious grilling smell fills the air. I see a unopened pack of 13 donuts that apparently fell of someone’s car but decide to keep moving. Keeping stops to a minimum is important for a good time. Before I know it I am riding over 59 and looking for the first restaurant stop, a KFC for me. It’s just me at this control so I head inside and get a soda and receipt please. I have a little mountain dew and then refill my bottle with water and a bit of ice. A country looking fellow eating with his son regards me with suspicion and turns entirely around in his booth to stare at me as I clank around the restaurant. And then like that I am back on the road, the wind is different on the east side of the ridge but I am still making good time.
The roads have a little more chip seal here and there is a bit of traffic as I pass by a production facility for garbage trucks. There are dozens of different models, shiny and new lining the roadway awaiting delivery or final production. Interesting to see them before they get beat to hell, reminds me of how cycling shoes are always so nice before the road breaks them in. I feel good, no pains, riding strong drinking and eating well. I have a little stomach ache so I drink more water, the weather is mild and hydration is hard as it never feels like I’m sweating. After a few miles my stomach feels better and I eat a little more. I reach the midway point and feel great, Bruce signs my card and I head inside for a water, a small Starbucks coffee drink and a pee. Outside I chat with Bruce for a bit and ask for an update on the other riders. Everyone seems to be riding well, minor mechanical for one rider but otherwise they’re moving right along. I say goodbye and get back on the road.
Into quite a headwind, not really it’s mostly mental. Wind in my face I ride along, buzzing from the caffeine. I ride too hard, the 120mg of caffeine has been too much at the wrong time and I put in too much effort heading into this control. I feel too good to eat and am bonking as I reach the control. I am ravenous and the bars or gels in my bags do not sound appetizing. I look for a McDonald’s but as my friend says later “Jacks! You were in the country!” So I settle for a Arby’s. I order and Bruce appears, we talk as I eat my fries, have half a mountain dew and half a roast beef sandwich. The food tastes like the best thing I’ve ever had and I eat too much too fast. We chat a bit more and then I am off again.
Riding through Ft. Payne is fun. There’s a little traffic but the roads are wide and people are nice. A car show in the parking lot of a repair place, a museum dedicated to Alabama (the band) and lots of shop windows and pedestrians to look at. Now I start to head downhill. Too much food is sapping my energy and the headwind is picking up. Flags are at full sail and I getting tired. Mentally I am struggling as well. My legs feel drained as the blood is all in my stomach working through a full meal. Ugh why did I do this again, I can’t eat regular food on a ride I guess. I have a mild headache that I think is from too much caffeine. I keep pedaling and try not to pay attention to how many miles are left.
Now I’m bored, tired, my feet hurt, my hands hurt a little it’s windy and I am not having fun. I listen to a little music on my MP3 player. It’s nice to listen to it through the external speaker as it sits nestled in my top tube bag. Much better than a headphone. I haven’t listened to the music on here in almost 18 months and some of the songs are atrocious and very bad. I skip around quite a bit. My emotions are strong as I ride up and down the rollers into the mild headwind. Shortly I am singing along to Florence and the Machine and trying not to cry. Probably the low point I suppose. After a million years I reach the next control south of Attalla, I get a snickers and water and feel a little better. I think the food has finally digested and I start riding a little stronger.
The final control is the longest but I keep going, racing the sun I play math games in my head. I figure I would have made R60 time had this been a normal 300k, then figure out I am easily going to hit R70 time. Then I spend some time trying to backfill my average speed between controls. It helps pass the time. Tinny synthwave beats from my top tube bag as I ride along through the day. Sun is setting and after the second epoch of riding I start to see familiar terrain from when I rode through here 12 hours earlier. I get excited and my feet hurt a little less and I pedal as little harder. As dusk gets closer and closer I pull up my leg warmers so my ankle bands are visible and then perform the same trick in reverse of putting on my reflective vest. All while riding! I enter downtown Springville and sprint through, for a few seconds anyway before my legs signal their strong disagreement. I’ve been telling myself I can walk the last hill for the past few hours but once it’s here I’m fine. Into the small ring and up I go. A mild descent and there’s Bruce filming with his phone in a surprisingly full packing lot. Stopping feels great and it’s like all the pain leaves my body instantly.
Overall I am surprised by how good my legs feel and how awful everything else feels.
Just for fun.
#1. Flat gravel section, smooth and non-technical.
#2. Climbing, somewhat technical with smooth straight sections.
#3. Descending, technical with rocky sections and roots in certain sections.
What a fast ride! I went in with a goal of finishing within R60 time and did so quite handily. Managed to nail my nutrition, hydration and control stop times with no issues. I had been reading about Jean Dubois in an issue of Bicycle Quarterly the night before and it really struck me his lamentation of the perception that modern randonneurs often just look to finish. Whereas his era was about riding hard and “putting in a good time.” This really crystallized the ethos for which I decided to get into randonneuring. I want to ride far as hard as I can within the rules of the sport, put in a good time and effort.
I got a little nervous the night before and the morning of but it was nothing but a little butterflies. The weather was amazing and the start was so close. I will admit I was a little exhausted the week leading up to the ride. I’ve been hiking too much and riding much more climbing in pursuit of ITP Points so it was good to finally be able to take Thursday and Friday to rest for a big ride.
The course was high traffic and it seemed like every other car was a truck and every other truck was towing a boat or a race car or a construction trailer and something else. I’m usually not used to riding so much on numbered highways or country trunk roads so it was a little more stressful that I prefer. This is apparently an organizational issue at the RUSA level. I’ve been doing a bit of research and this post from the New England Randonneurs is the most succinct summary I’ve found.
– The route needs to be fairly direct between controls. Backroads are OK provided that they don’t add more then 10-12% of additional distance instead of riding direct on state/US highways which allow cycling. For example, if the distance between two control locations via MA 115 was 40 miles and by using the nicer backroads the distance becomes 45 miles, this is generally OK. But if the backroad distance was 50 miles this would be too much overage and you’d need to use an intermediate control or take a more direct path. RUSA takes this seriously.
As someone who prides themselves on creating long distance routes that are low stress and fun to ride I find this deeply disturbing. We should be routed onto two lane 55 mph speed limit numbered state highways – just because RUSA says so? This is the kind of “rules are rules” nonsense that gets people killed. Not to put too fine a point on it.
I was passed by 42 cars, trucks or tractor trailers in the last two miles of this route, one every 12 seconds. The very definition of high stress. Why? Because RUSA wants to apply a more strict interpretation of the regulations than even ACP appears to?
I had a really good ride. The course had smooth roads but also some aggressive chip seal, some mild chip seal, rolling hills and some nice secluded sections in the Peidmont NWR. I only shifted out of my big ring once and that was to get up McCrackin Street heading out of Juliette. I stopped for water once at the fire station on Round Oak Juliette Road and ate the food I brought. People at the gas stations were nice about signing my card and the info controls were obvious. I met local hardwoman Betty Jean Jordan at the control West of Monticello and had her sign my card. Really nice lady and funny to put a face to a name that I’ve been seeing on Strava for years.
I didn’t have any saddle pain but I have been having some issues with the left side of my back so I was stretching and making sure to move around on the bike as I rode. Really at the end I felt great, just tired and sore legs and mentally tired as well. I think I need to tone down the hiking the day before but otherwise I had reasonably good preparation. Lots of sleep and naps and eating ok but maybe a little too much. My mouth was a little torn up which is worrying for such a short distance but I think I just need to chew more and probably get some more liquid nutrition in during the ride. Maybe try some chocolate milk.
Next time I would like to get ready a little earlier and check out the other rider’s bikes. There were some interesting looking ones in the few seconds I had before the start.
I rode my Diamondback Haanjo Comp with tubeless Panaracer Gravel King Slick 700×38 tires using Stans Sealant. I think my pressure of 30/32 was a little lower and could have been higher for the smoother roads at the start and end. It was perfect for the middle chip seal. I used a Revelate Tangle Medium framebag and had just enough room for my tools, food and reflective vest. No front rack for now.
Earlier in the winter I paid much too much for a Masi Randonneur 650bx47 low-trail bike with the intention of riding it for the SR series. However I found the bike intolerably stiff and the tires/wheelsize overly slow so I chose not to ride it. I am happy with the choice I made, the additional weight and drag would have made this ride unnecessarily hard. I plan to revisit the bike but not any time soon for randonneuring. Which is a shame but oh well.
Of all the places I’ve ridden from, in Georgia and the Southeast as a whole, for some reason McDonough was one of the few that made me feel weird and like an outsider. I don’t know what it was but much of the route just felt odd to me, lonely and isolated in a way I do not usually experience. When I started riding as an adult I had to listen to music while riding, I needed it to ride. Sometime near the end of 2016/early 2017 I just lost my preference for it and have been riding with just the noise of the wind. This ride was the first time in a year or so where I would have preferred the option to listen to music. I will be digging out my tiny mp3 player and using it on future brevets.
So overall, a good ride. I am excited and nervous for the remaining rides in this years SR series.
Moving time 7:30
Total time 7:44
Photos taken; 2
Clif Bars eaten; 5
Caffeine; 120mg + 40mg
Total Stops; 8 for controls (I rode by the info control for the bridge as I could read the year clearly at 25 miles per hour) + 2 for nature and water
Water bottles consumed; 5 but I ran out at the end and came in dry and empty