I had a lot of worries the night before this ride. I haven’t ridden this far, alone, since the last week of July in 2016. That ride was hard and left me broken and confused.
Mapping the route and planning the ride I felt frayed around the edges. Lots of thoughts dropped into my mind as I scanned country roads and pieced together the segments to get the distance and climbing I was looking for.
It takes a high level of trust in yourself and your equipment to invest the time, money and energy into something like this. Especially when it’s still new for that year and routine hasn’t been developed. I think a lot of my anxiety was of the general unknown. I’ve seen and experienced hardships on these sorts of rides and the ghosts of the past were coming back to guide my path. The kind of worry that feels bad but doesn’t stop me from doing what I need to do. Preparedness is the weapon here and I wield that blade with practiced skill developed in the summer fires of years passed.
So I packed more food, more water, tools and spare parts. Enough to get me home with any normal failure. Enough to eat and drink that I could make it between towns with hours to spare. My shoes are walkable, even if I can no longer ride I can walk. The animal that moves can survive.
I was still worrying on the drive to my starting point in Rome, Georgia.
Should I drink this canned Starbucks coffee drink? Is this too much caffeine too early? Is this going to make me crash later? But if I don’t drink it will I be ok?
I drive through the sleeping downtown and park in the dark lot next to Barron Stadium and the Rome-Floyd Tennis Center. Quickly change and get my bike set-up. Anxious to be away from my car and the potentially suspicious eyes of the prowling Rome police force.
From the first pedal stroke my worries depart and I am free. My legs feel strong and supple, the night air is still and I head north at a fast pace. Passing projects, the signs for pay day loans and liquor stores. Rome is a post industrial city and much of the residential blocks feature small, tired houses. In the soft yellow-tinted sodium lighting shadows are long and everything seems old and outdated. Berry College passes by bright and new, a hint of fog rolling off the Oostanaula river.
The modern consumer economy has moved north of Rome, as I leave Berry College behind I see the modern mall and retail parcels. The same across the entire southeast from Oklahoma to North Carolina – McDonald’s, Chik-Fil-A, Belk, Party City and so forth. Squat ugly buildings with gaudy colors flow by as the air takes a heavy greasy flavor. Fast food row is firing breakfast and the shiny silver hood vents belch heavy blue smoke lazily into the morning air.
My route takes me off the main highway and quickly I am onto narrow suburban streets. Small houses and big lawns flow by, yards dark with the occasional rattling of a dog’s chain or sleepy bark motivating me to keep the speed up.
Suddenly I am back onto 27 and the road is now a divided highway, 55mph with a narrow shoulder filled with rumble strips. I am moving fast and traffic is light so I keep going worried I have missed a turn miles ago and will be stuck riding back on the more heavily traffic southbound lanes. A few miles and I see my turn, relieved I get off the highway and am back into the narrow, formerly wagon-track, roadway. Here there is nothing but forest with the occasional clear cut field. The trees butt right against the road and in places form a tight canopy the keeps out the purple morning light.
Some minor climbing but mostly flat, sparely populated roads carry me through Silver Hill and the southeastern-most portion of the Johns Mountain Wildlife Preserve. I am back onto numbered roads with Georgia 100 and quickly make it to Summerville. A serendipitous bathroom break and I head through town, stopping for some pictures and a water at a church. Summerville is flat and doesn’t feature much to look at.
Another moderate climb and I’m heading north again. My heart breaks into a million pieces as I see a tiny, shaking creature in the middle of the opposite lane. I stop and see it is a tiny white kitten. Both eyes crusted shut and looking scared and sick. I pick it up, it’s body so tiny and warm and move it off the road into the grass. It lets out a feeble high-pitched mew as it gingerly takes a step in the grass. I can’t do anything to help and feel awful. Quickly I speed away, not looking back and pounding the pedals to get some distance from this.
Still north I am speeding along. It feels good to be back on 700c wheels and tires. They are significantly faster than 650b on smooth roads and I shocked when I see that I have covered the first 50 miles in a little more than 2 and a half hours. The main climb today takes me over a ridge, I can see this jutting from the earth into the sky for miles following to the west. It seems intimidating and much higher than expected.
Eventually my routing has taken me to a dead-end private road so I do a little mapping and find the correct route. This is the big climb of the day and I clench my teeth, suck in a deep breath and attack.
The climb is like every climb ever. Impossibly hard at the time, heart pounding skin ablaze bargaining to make it stop but once it’s over it seemed so short and fast. I enjoy the climb and feel strong at the top. Typical of Georgia, there is nothing to see on the climb but forest, I catch glimpses to the south of Summerville and the surroundings but no photo opportunities exist as the trees crowd the road and do not allow any clear views.
Next comes an unexpected gravel section. 7.8 miles to my turn, I deflate slightly before steeling my resolve and attacking the gravel section too. My bike handles it well, the narrower 35mm tires bounce and buck a little more than I prefer but they are fast and I make great time.
Eventually I reach the paved section and although parts are broken and unmaintained it is nice to be on a relatively smooth roadway. I’m on top of the ridge now and see a small lake filled with Kayakers, lots of corn and smooth winding roads.
I head south along the ridge, 157 lasts for miles with only the occasional car. The road is flat and occasionally a dog or two will speed after me, eager to marshal me along out of their jurisdiction.
The big descent comes as I hit 48, I scream down the winding mountain road, thankful I did not choose to climb the other side as the shoulder is narrow and the traffic seems higher than expected. I stop for water and a selfie in Menlo, a one stop sign town with a family dollar.
Fortified with a good supply of water I keep south and pass through more country residential areas. Bigger houses with bigger lawns, construction here is newer and things seem more upbeat. Lyerly goes by in a blur, not much to see here. Somewhere in here I noticed my rear tire is bouncy and find out I have had a slow leak. I pull over and change out the tube, the puncture appears to be a small abrasion from a piece of sand. Oh well, I am back on the road shortly, the change going smoothly. Later I stop and do a quick bit of navigation to cut my time on 100 down as I expect traffic to be heavier than earlier in the morning. I wind through parallel side roads and feel good that I am close to finishing.
My navigation adds a few miles but I don’t notice at the time. I ride for a bit on the Simms Mountain trail, it’s rocky and dirty but very fun, more testing for my tires I suppose.
Before long I am on the outskirts of West Rome. My route takes me on the busy highway 20 so I do some more navigation and take a nice relaxing side road back to my car. I am happy to see it has not been towed and it is still the only car in the lot. Rome is sleepy on most Saturdays it seems.