Friday, March 1, 2013

2012 Taste of Carolina 1200Km: ‘A Tale of Three Rides’

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” However, that is a different story.

It was with trepidation that I started the Taste of Carolina 1200-kilometer brevet last August. Although it was to be my seventh 1200-kilometer brevet, it would be my first attempt at this distance without the companionship and support of my trusted riding partner Vernon Smith.

Fortunately I was able to share a room with John Lee Ellis, whose moral support got me started, and would increase my confidence and perseverance throughout the journey. The ride started from the Greensboro Best Western Hotel, which was a very easy fifteen minute hotel-shuttle ride from the airport for those of us who flew in from out of state. Ride organizer Tony Goodnight hosted a delicious dinner the night before the ride with plenty of treats, and the opportunity to meet new randonneur friends and reconnect with old ones.

-- Click on any picture to see an enlargement. --

Ride #1
Starting at four in the morning, as have most of the longer brevets I have ridden, we left with a very cohesive group that pretty much stayed together for the first sixty miles, and traveled at a very reasonable pace. After our first stop in Salem Fork, the group began to spread out as we began our climb over the eastern Continental Divide and on to cross the Blue Ridge Parkway on smooth roads surrounded but lush vegetation. The climbs were not as long as I am used to in Colorado, but they are steeper, and the late summer humidity started to remind me of my time growing up in Minnesota.
As we rode the rolling terrain of the Appalachian Mountains and crossed into Virginia, I was beginning to feel the effects of the heat. As a randonneur, I was thrilled to include another state in my list of accomplishments that allowed me to qualify for the American Explorer Award from RUSA.
My efforts to stay with the group I was with, however, began to take their toll and by mile 165, I was fried and had to take an extended rest at the next control to cool down. The clerks at the Dugspur Deli Mart were very kind to let me enjoy the air conditioning as I rehydrated and recovered. The cool grass in the shade was a perfect spot for a micro-nap to complete the recovery. Fortunately, I was able to recover enough in time to join another group as they passed through the control.

Ride # 2

 I joined a social group of about eleven riders from Florida, Arizona, and Tennessee who allowed me to complete my recovery in their slipstream. We took turns encouraging each other through the rolling terrain, performed ‘group flat tire fixes’, and enjoyed a hearty dinner at Hardee’s as we made our way back to Greensboro.

The group was a mixture of people riding their first 1200K and those with multiple 1200K’s under their belts.

Before leaving the mountains of Virginia, we made a stop at Lover’s Leap, but decided a bicycle descent on smooth roads was the best way to leave the

We finished the first 400 km of our journey by returning to North Carolina in the dark completing a gentle rolling descent over the last 60 miles toward the Greensboro Best Western Hotel. Although I had thought about trying to start the next leg of the ride with John Lee, I realized an extra hour of sleep would allow me to continue with the “Florida group” and improve my energy for the next day.

Day Two headed south east out of Greensboro through rolling farm land and forest. The day started with fog which quickly burned off to reveal the heat and humidity of a North Carolina August. Our group continued to work together as we made our way to lower elevations, passing through quiet rural towns.
We enjoyed quiet smooth roads which allowed us to follow a pace that waxed and waned as the terrain fluctuated but gently became smoother and smoother.
 Infrequent road construction allowed us to visit with local road workers, and get reminders of how to pace our selves.
Tony Goodnight seemed to be ever present, meeting us at several check points on each day, and delivering much needed support at “surprise” stops along the way. At one point, he even reprogrammed my Garmin GPS unit with updated maps from his laptop at eleven at night, and left water and Gatorade bottles at a control he knew would be closed at 2 am when I would be arriving. Tony must have gotten the least sleep of all those participating in and volunteering for the event.
At times, the group was very disciplined maintaining a steady pace line as we headed toward Laurinburg, while other times visiting was a perfect way to share the miles and beautiful scenery.
An afternoon stop at the Laurinburg check point allowed our group to feast on delicious sandwiches, fruit and drinks provided by Tony’s magnificent volunteer crew, and our group enlarged as additional riders joined us on the last leg into Sunset Beach on quiet, virtually flat roads. Along the way, we made a brief foray into South Carolina for all of one mile as we stopped in Tabor City. We reached Sunset Beach well after sunset, so I never truly saw the Atlantic Ocean, but I could feel the salt water air and hear the waves gently lapping on the beach.

Enthusiastic volunteers steered us to food, showers, and assigned beds for sleep. I saw that John Lee had requested a 4 am wake up call so I decided to get up early to try to join him.

Ride # 3

After arising early, grabbing a quick breakfast, welcoming riders who were just arriving, and organizing my things for the next leg of my journey, I realized there was no sign of John Lee for his wake up call. Checking with the well organized volunteers, I learned that he had awoken earlier and already headed down the road. I decided I would do the same and head out solo, as the group from the previous day and a half was planning to depart later. Thus began my third ride within the event. The steepest climb of the day was going over New Bridge just one and a half miles from the Sunset Beach control. There was a nice fog early in the day that made the miles seem more mysterious and adventuresome. The smooth flat roads leading away from the ocean gave me plenty of time to warm up my legs, and find a comfortable rhythm.

Returning through Tabor City in South Carolina before sunrise, I experienced more Southern hospitality, which was ubiquitous to The Taste of Carolina. The man at the Chicken & BBQ was selling sausage burritos for a dollar fifty. I asked if I could have an egg in my sausage burrito also. He gave me the entire sausage egg burrito for only a dollar stating he liked supporting the bicycle riders passing through.
As the sun rose, I was able to enjoy the scenery of coastal North Carolina as I headed back to the Piedmont, not realizing I was gently climbing away from the ocean.
I was thrilled to see some of the architectural splendor of North Carolina I had missed passing through in the dark the night before. I’m still not sure if this was the antebellum South I had read about in ‘Gone With the Wind’.

Passing through Rowland, I kept waiting to see other riders, but continued my solo segment of the ride. At the control stop, I was reminded of the advice my Southernbelle wife gave me as I enjoyed the delicacy of boiled peanuts, which helped restore my sodium levels and added protein to my nutrition. Now if I could only find a justification for the Honey Buns I ate.
There was a spur going to Hope Mills which gave me the chance to see small groups of riders on this ‘out and back’ segment. Unfortunately, I was so distracted by the fun of greeting fellow riders that I missed the turn on the way back and rode an extra five miles before realizing my mistake.
I arrived back in Laurinburg about just before dinner time. I decided to get some sleep in the hotel room I had reserved even though there was still plenty of day light left. This would be mistake number two for this day, which would haunt me later. I left Laurinburg about midnight even though I had learned on previous long brevets that I need sleep sometime between eleven at night and five in the morning. Again, Tony Goodnight appeared out of no where about an hour after I had left the control and offered hydration support. My previous evening slumber in Laurinburg proved to be insufficient. About three in the morning, on a steep down hill, I realized I was falling asleep on the bike, and needed to stop. I found a small church with an inviting concrete step that made a perfect spot to nap. Unfortunately, I was so sleep deprived, I forgot to take a picture of this sanctuary until I was ten miles down the road.
During the final morning of my ride, I was inspired by the quaint scenery to forge on, and even “reach into my suit case of courage” to push for, what felt like, a strong finish.
I had been riding the last third of The Taste of Carolina with primarily the company of my shadow, my thoughts, and strangers encountered at check points along the way. I was pleasantly surprised that my initial trepidation was replaced by the fulfillment of completing another successful 1200-kilometer brevet. I only hope to continue to share this triumphant feeling with Vernon again on future rides. 

After playing telephone tag with John Lee throughout the ride, I was finally able to catch up to him at the finish line in Greensboro.
The ride was celebrated with a group dinner that night, where I realized I was ready to sign up for the 2013 Taste of Carolina. I always believe you can never get enough of a good thing. As my repressed-Red-Neck wife from Atlanta would say, “Ya’ll come back now. Ya hear?”
 - Paul Foley

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