Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fun on the Taste of Carolina 1200!

August, 2012 brought us the second edition of Tony Goodnight's Taste of Carolina 1200k.  Tony is the RBA for High Point, NC, and organizes a whole raft of brevets throughout the year, with a dedicated following.  As someone who biked all over the Carolinas while living in Charlotte for a decade, I was especially keen to be on these roads again.
There is allure in riding an inaugural event. But the second or third edition can incorporate a lot of lessons from your first time out, and we benefited from these on the 2012 ToC.
I'd only met Tony once in person, a couple years earlier in the dead of night in Mt. Airy, NC ("Mayberry" of the Andy Griffith Show), when he was supporting Matt Settle's Shenandoah 1200:
-- Click on any picture to see an enlarged version. --
So it was a pleasure to see Tony again, and all over the place during his event.
Tony (left) orchestrates a fun check-in complete with tasty pre-ride meal.  That's Paul Foley in the yellow t-shirt.
The first 400km forms a loop into the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Seemed like it would be the most appealing part of the ride for me, and in some ways it was ... but the rest was nice, too!
 After a 4am start over mellow terrain and some heavy fog, things brightened nicely.
Paul Foley takes on the longest climb of the ride (though not the stiffest!), the three miles to the Eastern Continental Divide.

The Eastern Continental Divide separates water flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from water flowing to the east Atlantic coast.  This is about 2,100 ft. above the ride start in Greensboro.
Colorado High Country veteran George Hiscox from Tennessee also stopped for this photo op.  We rode a fair ways with him - a cordial and gracious riding companion, and a perfect gentleman.
A good bunch of riders taking a load off their feet at the second intermediate control, the Twin Oaks Cafe, a typical North Carolina country store, complete with live bait (and a friendly staff).

Anthony Parsons from Florida, an accomplished ultracyclist, rode a good portion of the route with us, always a good and cheerful cycling companion.

Paul takes the opportunity to stretch his feet, a clue that he's an expert randonneur:

It may be the "Taste of Carolina," but we had a good jaunt in the hills of Virginia, too.  This was the most strenous stretch of the route, interlacing with the southernmost extent of the Shenandoah 1200.
And, like the Shenandoah, the ToC also spent time on the Blue Ridge Parkway ... although only for about 300 ft.

Fortunately, the portion west of the Eastern Continental Divide brought us into milder air in the 70's for those climbs.  When I lived here, that's how I would escape the summer heat, too: with great rides in the Blue Ridge.
Paul still looks chipper swooping into the Willis control after those strenuous miles in the heat of the day. 

Tony measured 17,000 ft. of climbing on his pre-ride of this loop, no doubt more than the other two thirds combined.  A scenic, front-loaded start.
As evening fell, the final few hours of this loop gave us a swift, shallow, and serene descent back into NC - and to the Greensboro start - making you feel more athletic than folks usually do at the 400k mark. 
I was not sure that coming back to the start at the 400k-mark on at 1200k would be especially motivating.  But in fact it turned out great.  All my supplies and fresh clothing were laid out and ready in the motel room I still had a claim on.  One could be very efficient and restorative.  Plus I knew how to get there.
Back at the start motel in Greensboro, Terry Schleede and Tony scrutinize us clinically for signs of wear as they dole out as many Subway sandwiches and other treats as we can inhale.
The next day would take us through the rolling Piedmont and on through the coastal plain to the coast.
We headed out from Greensboro again at 4am under even denser, wetter fog. As the day brightened, the fog became more "scenic" as we rolled through the big, wooded hills of the central Uwharrie Mountains ("once higher than the Alps," as one historical marker proclaims). We were half looking forward and half dreading the time when the fog and overcast would burn off, with the prospect of being toasted in Low Country sun.
You'll see photos of this segment on the way back.
Soon after broaching the coastal plain, we reached the Laurinburg control and a number of smiling faces, including Phil Creel, whom I remember from years past as a great rando and endurance cyclist, and simply a nice fellow:

I was not particularly looking forward to this segment, with the prospect of many miles over flat terrain.  But as it turned out, Tony had found many quiet to very quiet rustic county roads, most of them pleasantly wooded with vegetation that changed as we neared the coast. 
Some of them were minor enough, they were pretty rough.  I started to envy some of the riders on the rando bikes and balloon tires.
Heading into Tabor City, we spotted the two 1000k riders - my friends Bill Beck, the Maryland RBA, and Michael Henderson, from Rico, CO.  They were heading back from the coast, as the 1000k route had cut the first loop in half, separating them from the 1200k riders.  It was nice to see them!
The Tabor City control lay just over the state line, in South Carolina.  This brief foray of a half mile or so tagged a new state for me for the American Explorer award.  (I'd already tagged Virginia and NC on the Shenandoah.)
 As dusk fell, we rolled across the bridge to the coast at Sunset Beach, and after a few sandwiches and treats, took a stroll to the beach.  A full moon lighted our way and highlighted the breakers.  It was therapeutic to be out of the bike shoes and treading sand on bare feet.

We headed out at 2pm on the smooth, flat coastal roads.  It took almost an hour to run into our new acquaintance, the wet fog.  The quiet roads made for good conversation that kept you awake.
The return stretch was similar to the outbound segment except for a spur to Hope Mills, home to a large chicken processing plant.  It was the only road with real traffic of the entire event.
By the final stretch into Laurinburg, temps had warmed into the 90's, under a strong sun, and it was beginning to take its toll. 
It was around 1pm, too early for a prolonged stop.  I knew from my days living here that the only likely motel between here and the finish might be in Troy, 60 miles up the road.
Fortunately Paul Smith, veteran of Boston-Montreal-Boston and many another randonnée, was gracious enough to nail down a room there. 

Out on the porch, Terry was making some life-sustaining sandwiches.

Several of those, plus a refreshing shower and my lucky Last Chance jersey (good in hot weather) put me in shape to press onward.

Still the heat of the day, but the serene landscape was soothing.
I hydration stop at the Ellerbe was essential, though.
Lots of typical Carolina architecture is on display on these quiet country roads, some of it the worse for wear, but you can see the graceful porch and rooflines of these rustic farmhouses.

As evening approached, welcome shade helped out.

These old signs are a trademark of North Carolina.  The county road numbers are easy to see, and the arrows help, too.  Alas, they've been allowed to deteriorate and we may see fewer and fewer of them.

Another house bespeaking rustic charm of a bygone error, and a car of that vintage, too!

Trees thrive in the Carolinas, and timber companies harvest them periodically.  Clearcutting gives you a rare open landscape.

In Troy, it's just nearing sunset, and my motel room awaits. 
Talking with locals at a fast food establishment, they confirm it has been way more humid than normal.  People think that the southeast is uncomfortably humid, but that varies.  It's just that recent heavy rains have made for the dense fog and sultry air we've experienced .

After a luxurious sleep, and a couple of quiet (and fog-free!) hours in darkness, it's just a great morning to be out on your bike.
The just-past-full moon is setting in dawn's orange glow.

The final miles whiz lyrically by ...

Even the final approach to the finish in Greensboro is through a quiet, tree-lined office park.

A friendly finish-line greeting from Tony Goodnight and Bill Beck.

Our friend Mike Sturgill from Phoenix was one of the early finishers, and looks like he may have had a fun ride.

With this 1000k - in addition to Paris-Brest-Paris and the Colorado Front Range Flèche - Michael Henderson has earned his ACP Randonneur 5000 award.

Veteran randos Dave Thompson and Geof Simons
(Dave will be organizing the Granite Anvil 1200 in 2013.)

RUSA and SIR president Mark Thomas wraps up his fifth-or-so (but not final) 1200k of the year.

And K-Hound and Mondial Award winner Maile Neel from Washington DC has another 1200k in the pocket.

Paul and I finally hook up as he finishes at about the same time, looking chipper, after a great ride.

Paul's own story and photos are up next, so stay tuned.

Tony and his volunteers deserve a lot of credit for putting together this scenic, thoroughly rideable 1200k.  Thanks, Tony!
Each year, Tony varies the course some, and for 2013, it will be an October event (less toasty, and shorter days).  But whatever the route or time of year, you can count on having a good time.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Stove Prairie Saunter 200k - Great Winter Climbing!

It's a bright, clear, cheerful start to an early-season Stove Prairie Saunter. 
This is a good climbing ride to do early on - despite its stiff pithces - because it is largely south-facing, so you don't have the snow and ice buildup on the roadway as in our east-west canyons ... or the Frigidaire effect!
The Flatirons are flecked with recent snow:
After a hotdog stop at Sandy's in Loveland, it's on past Masonville, where the northfacing cliffs on Buckhorn Road only show flecks of snow.

After the first couple of attention-getting climbs, we descend into the narrow Buckhorn Gulch area, where it's winter riding because of the shadows.
Some neighboring cattle are enjoying the sunny side of the street.

I had not been up the Stove Prairie road since last summer's fire.  The burnt timbers were accentuated by snow ground cover.


As the climb continued, it really was the ideal situation: beautiful snow-covered terrain but dry, clear roads.

The frozen pond at the edge of Stove Prairie adds to the feeling of chilliness - that and the brisk headwind.

Welcomed by the familiar Stove Prairie School sign at the summit!

Hard not to enjoy a ride like this - brilliant sunshine, white snow, and a good climb!