408 Miles Earn BRAGing Rights For Peloton
Last year after a wonderful bike vacation in Hungary, my bride Carol got wind of another Euro trip to Italy in the summer of 2010. Although we had “been there, done that” a while back, we thought a return trip would be another journey we’d like to complete. Unfortunately for us, it was not in the cards, as the Atlanta bike clubbers took all the spots before we could sign on.
Welcome, Bakers, to BRAG 2010! Carol has done six BRAG tours, and I’ve done over twenty, including the first in 1980, and we’ve always enjoyed the fun of working together to complete the week, as well as meeting lots of new buds along the way. This year’s BRAG (Bike Ride Across Georgia) would begin in Fayetteville and go through Griffin, Thomaston, Columbus, LaGrange and Newnan before returning to Fayetteville, a circular route of 408 miles in seven days.
So, on Saturday, June 5th, I drive solo to Newnan to connect with an old running buddy, Blane Goss. Blane and I go back to circa 1980, when we were young and dumb, running many races together while I took courses at Georgia College in Milledgeville, his home. Blane has been up to Chattanooga for the
3 State 3 Mountain Century a few times, and we’ve done 6 Gap on occasion, as well as running the Hogpen Hillclimb in the snow. Blane offers his home and taxi services for BRAG, and I accept thankfully. Carol is attending the 60th birthday bash of Margaret (a BFF) on Saturday night. She would be driven to Griffin Sunday by Eugenia (another BFF) and her friend Bill to start BRAG a day late.
From Newnan, Blane takes me to Fayetteville, only 16 miles apart. Since we didn’t know where the Catholic school—BRAG HQ—was, it took us 40 miles, but we easily made the 6:00 PM cutoff time to register. I picked up our registration packets and found out that only 1,100 had signed up for the week, far less than the 2,000 plus I had envisioned. More convenient in the shower truck and lunch lines, I thought. Afterwards, Blane takes us to a Texas Roadhouse where we try their salmon and fishbowl Margaritas. Thus relaxed, we depart for Blane’s country cabin. Plans for the next day were drawn up: we would leave at 6:15 AM, load my duffel bag on the 18-wheeler that carries all the luggage (only one truck this trip; I have seen 3 before), and the two of us would hop on our steeds for the 57-miler to Griffin. Carol would be easy enough to find, especially with the new cell phones we had recently secured (for the first time!).
I don’t remember much about Sunday’s ride. We rode on Evander Holyfield Parkway; his mansion was very close to the start. A fast guy pulling two young ladies up a hill blew by us at one point, but Blane took off within 5 seconds, and soon he was but a dot in front of the racers and me. Payback . . . . .
For the uninitiated, it might seem like riding 408 miles across the state in the heat of summer is a Herculean accomplishment, but let me tell you of the Rest Stops. They are spaced about 10-12 miles apart—4 for this ride—and have about 8 porta-potties as well. Snacks consist of water, Gatorade, peaches, bananas, oranges, peanuts and crackers. No one bonks on BRAG anymore!
Highlight for the day was when we went by the AMS (Atlanta Motor Speedway). About 20 years ago, BRAG had started in Hampton, camping near the racetrack. Some of us actually raced our bikes on the track in a USCF event. I remember two riders who rode up the banked wall, attempting to slingshot past the peloton. Their ploy didn’t work; by the time they were down from the wall, the pack was by them. Sadly, we weren’t able to ride on the track this year as the speedway wanted $6,500 for one loop on the oval! The greedy you-know-whats!
We had a stretch of shake-and-bake nearly two miles long. For a while, I thought I was in Alabama!
Blane and I reach Spalding High school in Griffin about 1:00 PM, and Carol spots us immediately. Blane is lucky to have a co-worker, Susan, come over and cart him and his bike back to Newnan. Before he leaves, we talk him into riding with us again on Saturday for the last day, and he consents! Until then, he’ll be smoothing out kinks at the huge Sysco plant in Newnan. Some people have to work; yippee, not me!
After finding a cold drink oasis, we decide to watch a movie on campus: National Geographic’s Most Amazing Moments. The highlight (?) of the film occurred when seven lions took over an hour to finally take down and kill a huge cape buffalo, about the most gruesome sight I’ve witnessed. Life is precious . . .
The next order of business was supper in the school lunchroom, where I met an old running bud from Columbus, Larry Durham. He was doing his first BRAG. I had not seen him in 25 years—we competed in many 5 and 10K races when I lived in Columbus. Survivors, both of us.
After the trip down memory lane, it was time to set up the tent. A considerable hike led us to our dream site, flatter than many of the places squatters nearby had chosen. With dark clouds menacing, I worked quickly to secure our belongings. How on earth did the settlers manage to survive on the Oregon Trail?
Instead of busing downtown to loiter, we instead opted to see another movie at school, trying to get the memory of the buffalo being eaten alive out of our minds. Paul Blart Mall Cop did just that and even reminded me of Steve, a BRAG policeman from Macon.
Day 2—Carol’s first—took us to Thomaston, where I taught and coached football years ago. Within 20 miles, we were at our second sag stop in Barnesville, a turnaround point for many a bike ride I took while living in Macon.
The three fairly long climbs, along with another section of shake-and-bake, made us glad to finally see the city limits sign in Thomaston. We camped near the Civic Center and football field, same place as we did when GASBE—GA Across State Bike Event—camped there for the first state tour in 1980. Many of the staffers at the welcome booth knew some of the teachers I had worked with years ago, and I was delighted that they promised to relay a “hi” from me.
For supper, Carol and I caught a shuttle school bus to Chili’s, where we hoisted a Margarita to get the dust out of our throats. We had wanted to go to a movie while in Thomaston, but the only offering was SHREK, so we decided to stay in town at the square and listen to some local singers and pickers. On a previous BRAG, I remember watching the Platters here; not today.
Tuesday’s ride took us to Columbus and was the longest day--67 miles. We crossed the Flint river and passed through Talbotton, Ellerslie and Waverly Hall (a first-class stop during the recent Wheels O’ Fire Century, an excellent ride, by the way). We had to ride through Columbus to get to our overnight spot, the Columbus State University Art Center on the Chattahoochie River, but the routing was along the Warm Springs Bike Path, thus saving us confrontations with SUV’s and other spaceships.
Several weeks before BRAG, I had written Lloyd Sampson that Carol and I were going to be in town for the event and invited him to ride with us a day or two. Lloyd was one of the premier runners in Columbus a while back, with 5K times in the 16-minute range to attest. He also competed in some serious age group events internationally in the biathlon (run-bike).
My most fond memory of Lloyd came during a BRAG adventure in Bainbridge in the 80’s. It was his first bike “vacation,” and he brought all the necessities for the week, including a tent. “One of my friends gave it to me. He said he hadn’t used it in years,” Lloyd related.
Yeah, not since the Korean War, I suspect. It was canvas, and Lloyd said it weighed in at “only 23 lbs.” What he failed to say was that it was missing a few vital parts—pole segments!
The first time he erected the tent, it took him 45 minutes, even with the “help” of as many engineer-types as he could muster. The finished look of the tent seemed to be a bit unlike the original design picture, I imagine, but served the purpose well. It was huge and had 3 flap windows, with standing room inside even. Lloyd kept his trusty horse inside with him at night (probably the same as Lawrence of Arabia did, using a prototype in earlier times!). As the week progressed, his erection times improved, with a sub-half-hour time his final effort. I remember with all the poles, segments, sleeves and such, that perhaps a half-dozen shapes could result in their construction. After the final take-down of the tour, however, Lloyd unceremoniously dumped the “tent” into a trash can. He never told me if he thanked the friend(?) who donated the tent when he returned to Columbus.
A few days before I was to leave for BRAG, Lloyd calls and invites us to stay at his house the two nights we are in Columbus! I remembered his Victorian home that he and his wife, Gloria, had refurbished—complete with historical marker in the front yard—and I quickly said we’d be delighted. At one time, he had his dermatology practice inside his home but has since retired. They were only a little over a mile from the College Art Center where BRAG was staying for two nights.
After downing a smoothie at a downtown shop, I rode over to Lloyd’s home. Gloria, a professional artist, was sketching upstairs, and they gave me a warm welcome as I clunked up their steps in my cleats. In no time, our bags and Carol’s bike are inside their home. Going from the shower truck to individual bathrooms was quite the ticket!
By 6:00 PM, we were rested, clean and presentable to go downstairs for the feast Gloria had prepared. Eggplant lasagna, a wonderful salad and mouth-watering pineapple upside-down cake ala mode tasted like it was prepared for royalty! After supper, we were treated to something rare but wonderfully entertaining. Behind their home they have built a dance studio, and it is here they practice their passion—social ballroom dancing! Carol and I were impressed with their moves, agility, ease and repertoire, performing many dances: waltz, Viennese waltz, fox trot, rumba, samba, tango, swing, polka, quick-step, cha-cha—just to mention a few. They said they usually practice an hour after supper every day and are not into competition but for the fun of it. The next day, Lloyd went to Atlanta for lessons and relies on his instructor to help him better his technique. (However, we saw very little room for improvement; they were great.)
After a relaxing night’s rest, we rode to the BRAG campgrounds to find many people still in the compound—lots of bikes visible. Since this was a layover day, many had decided to shop, sleep or “chill,” as the teens call it. Rides for today included 55, 31 and 17 miles as well as a 103-miler for the Hammerheads amongst us. Carol and I thought 55 miles would be enough to earn our supper, so away we rode along the bike path connecting Columbus and Fort Benning, paralleling the river much of the way. Carol became much more attentive when we read a sign warning us that we were in an alligator habitat!
Before long, we are in Fort Benning, passing undeterred through the checkpoint. I wish Carol could see the troops marching or jumping from the jump simulators, but no such luck. Just as we are nearing the airfield, another rider overtakes us, and we invite him to join. While we see a bunch of riders during the day, it’s nothing like the number on a “regular” ride. En route we find out our passenger is Ken Livingston, uncle of Jim Livingston, a guy I raced with when I lived in Columbus. Ken also was in the Air Force and was a retired teacher—both credentials I held. At about 28 miles, we came across another rest stop next to a lake, and we managed to wolf down cooks and oranges with a drink. On the return, we manage to talk Ken into stopping at the Subway in Fort Benning, and this served as our carrot to beat the hills and heat for the finale. When we approached the airfield this time, a large cargo plane was landing and came right over us—about 30 seconds later, we felt the air from the down-draft almost knock us over!
The Subway on post was a bit unusual. It had two separate lines, as well as a drive-in. Also, several of the soldiers were sitting outside in the heat, wearing long-sleeved camouflages. Must feel like Iraq to them. We get another lucky break when Ken invited us to stay in LaGrange the next day with him at his daughter’s home, as his daughter and family would be out of town and had advised him that he could invite whomever he wanted to spend the night. She was Karen Honeycutt, a pediatrician, and Ken said several others would also be staying there. We accepted his offer before he finished talking; 90-degree heat is hard to ignore. We agreed to call him the next day in LaGrange, and he would come pick up and carry our gear to the new accommodations.
In the meantime, we finished the Hooah Ride—this is Fort Benning, remember—but missed the new Infantry Museum, a place we had wanted to see. Next time . . . .
Tonight Carol, Lloyd, Gloria and I went to a Mexican Restaurant. Although it was difficult to talk over the loud singing, Lloyd managed to converse in Spanish, his newly learned language, with our waitress. After the “South of the Border” cuisine, along with accompanying Margarita, I was ready for some quiet time--however, not before we got to observe Lloyd and Gloria’s DWTS rendition. At Lloyd’s insistence, Carol was talked into learning the swing, and he was both patient and elegant. My bride was a quick study and soon had the time of her life gliding across the dance floor. Lloyd and Gloria made the dances look easy, but I know better. Just like the PGA golfers, “those guys are good.”
Capping off the night, we watch a quick slide show of the Sampson’s trip to South Africa only a few months ago. Looked inviting.
The fifth riding day was from Columbus to LaGrange. After breakfast we hugged Gloria goodbye, and Lloyd drove our bags to the BRAG truck, while Carol and I biked from their beautiful Victorian home to the rendezvous point. We caught up with Lloyd and thanked him again for putting up with the Bakers. And then we were gone . . . .
Within ten miles, we were riding by Shaw High School, a BRAG overnight site in 1990. The temperature then was 105 degrees, and I recall setting my tent up in a pine thicket, just to get some shade relief. It still was too hot to attempt sleep inside until after 11:00 PM, if my fading memory is correct.
At 30 miles we’re in Hamilton, very close to Callaway Gardens, our favorite place, and Ken’s home, Pine Mountain, GA. We catch our breath at the sag stop on the town square in Hamilton, readying ourselves for the day’s biggest test—a six-tenths mile climb about a mile out of town. It was indeed painful; I saw several people pushing their horses up the hill.
The rest of the ride was uneventful—pretty farmland, green grass, pickup trucks and SUV’s everywhere (just like in Tennessee). With only a mile or so to the end of today’s 63-miler, Carol meets the tarmac. With me leading the way, a truck from the left beats me to the intersection. He has a stop sign while turning left onto our road but runs it, and I slow to miss him. Just when I slow, I feel Carol bump my rear wheel, then hear the subsequent crash. When this happens, I yell at the driver several ungentlemanly comments, then check Carol to assess the damage. Elbow and knee are scraped, but nothing serious—and the bike is not trashed. The two men in the truck have stopped and are pleading their case that they did not hit her. In a few seconds, I “convinced” them that they caused the accident by running the STOP sign, requiring me to brake and Carol to run into me. When Carol said she was okay, I decided not to break their bones. They drove away and soon did we.
We’re at BRAG Headquarters by 3:00 PM, and we call Ken to let him know that we’ll shower, get Carol bandaged by a BRAG nurse, then eat supper (as we had bought a meal ticket for tonight), then call him afterwards to come pick us up. Both of us have a considerable wait at the shower truck, but soon we emerge fresh as a daisy, more or less. Carol gets her wounds covered, I locate and carry our bags from the baggage truck to a rendezvous point for Ken’s upcoming rescue, then we set out to locate the LaGrange College cafeteria. It was about three-fourths mile away, and we had plenty of salad, numerous kinds of pasta and pizza to eat, with ice cream and cookies for our “reward.”
We called Ken after supper; and before we had managed to return to Tent City, he had picked us up. The bags were loaded into his SUV, plus Carol’s bike and Carol herself; I would have to follow them to Karen’s home. Ken promised it was only a mile—more like a mile and a half—and included a couple of tough little stingers. They didn’t drop me, but I needed another shower, as I was sweating bullets when we pulled in.
I don’t recall the square footage of the home, but they had at least six bedrooms—one HUGE master bedroom, with a shower that could accommodate half the Atlanta Falcons, I’m sure. Behind the house was an inviting lake (and nearby was West Point Lake, one of Georgia’s largest). We put our bikes in the garage, absent of cars at this time. I noticed Bill’s bike—Karen’s husband—a sleek racer with top-of-the-line componentry AND Zipp wheels!
The second shower of the day was to die for—cool conditions, lots of room and no rush job—nothing else is necessary. Thus invigorated, it is time to meet the others who were fortunate as us to receive invitations: Robert is a teacher from South Carolina, Claudia is the mom of Janet and Diane, who live in Miami (why?), Jeff, a Southwest pilot from Chattanooga (although we had not previously met) and, of course, Gloria, Ken’s wife who also is a retired teacher. I wanted to shoot pool with Robert, but, by the time supper #2 was over—we all went downtown, Margaritas only for the Bakers, please—we were ready for the sack.
The next morning, Ken and I arose early to take the groups’ bags to the truck, then visit the Waffle House for a dose of determination needed for the ride to Newnan, 62 miles away. We lost considerable time waiting for folks to get their bags to us, so by the time we began the bike ride—which went directly by our swank headquarters—it was nearly 7:45 AM. Ken and I had seen riders on the road at 6:00 AM, intending to beat the heat. They would; we didn’t.
Nevertheless, we made it to Newnan High School by 3:00 PM. Most of the bags were already picked up, with tents set up around the campus. We had been spoiled by staying indoors the past three nights, and this would be our fourth! Enter Blane, our go-to man, for the save once more. Within a half-hour of our arrival, we had all our bags and bikes attached to his van and were on our way to his house in the country. After a shower, we were repacked into his van for a rendezvous with the Olive Garden, where we carbo-loaded until the tank registered full again. Our evening entertainment consisted of watching The Inheritance, although some in the group did not make the conclusion before giving way to slumber.
The next day was the last, Newnan to Fayetteville, a mere 42-mile ride. After a fine breakfast cooked by our host, we began our final assault. Blane started with us and would ride about twenty miles, then return home, pick up the van and meet us in Fayetteville. Logistics were impeccable. Today we were able to set off before 7:00 AM and actually spent a lot of time in the s-h-a-d-e! It felt strange to arrive at our destination not soaked and exhausted.
We leaned our trusty steeds up against a pole, then went inside for the end-of-the-ride party--lunch for the road warriors, complete with chicken, salad, cokes and even individually wrapped chocolate! It doesn’t take much to please the palate of those who have lived a week on BRAG, browsing often at sag stops.
The last order of business was the presentation of awards for riders 15 and under, and seniors 65 and older. I had the dubious honor of being the only one in our group in the latter category and had Jerry Colley, BRAG Director, place a medallion around my neck. (Perhaps next year, I can use it to swat unruly canines along the way?!) When Blane stops poking fun at me, he drives us back to Newnan--only about 16 miles--and we’re done Bragging for another year!
This summer I had bought a large mesh tent, replacing a smaller one we had. We were only able to use it two nights on BRAG, as we stayed in some fabulous homes for five nights!
As Carol has always loved to dance, and Dancing with the Stars is her favorite program, our visit with the Sampsons was right up her alley. Gloria added substance to an already fun get-together by giving us a sketch book she wrote and had published recently, Alaska – Travelers Sketch Book. It was written when she went on a cruise to Alaska, where she lived as a child for two years in Wasilla, close to Anchorage, and graduated high school with Sara Palin’s mother.
The highlight of the trip was not simply staying in such plush accommodations, but being with such NICE FOLKS! Whenever an elusive goal is chosen--in this case, riding BRAG for a week in brutal conditions--it is the cast of characters with whom you share experiences that makes the completion so rewarding. I wonder what the next adventure will be . . . .