(John, Cathy, Branson, Jerry, Glenn, Chuck, and an unknown member of the Blue Man Group at the start)
Branson Kimball and I traveled to Spartanburg together on Friday afternoon for Bethany's 200km brevet. We had a great time rehashing PBP for the umpteenth time. We ran into Phil Creel, whom I had met at PBP and his friend John while checking in at the hotel. They joined us and Ron Blaine for a good Italian dinner at Capri's.
We watched the Weather Channel from about 8 until we turned in at 10. I had been hoping that the predicted rain and high winds wouldn't materialize, but there was no indication that the forecast would improve. It looked like we were in for rain in the early morning, high winds from the WSW, possible snow at high elevations (Does Caesar’s Head qualify?), and a gradual cooling trend all day. Great—PBP with snow!
Why is it when meteorologists nail a forecast, it always sucks?! Well friends, they hit this one square in the middle. At 0600 it was 58 degrees and dropping, the flags at the hotel were about as stiff as a shot of 151 rum, and a rain shower had just ended. Prepared for the worst we rolled over to the start a half-mile away. Lots of folks had gathered—lots more than the 22 that started. The DNS rate rivaled PBP, but I have to admit, the thought of packing it in crossed my mind as we rolled down New Cut Road and right by the hotel.
The pack of riders quickly spread out into small groups of 4 or 5 and despite the wind, everyone seemed to be in good spirits. By the time we reached Callahan Mountain Road at mile 26, we had regrouped a little and nine of us prepared to take on the “short but steep hill” as Bethany’s cue sheet described it. I think her odometer is broken—it ain’t short! And to paraphrase Chet Buell, any road named with the words mountain or hill should be avoided at all cost.
(No explanation necessary)
Branson and I were feeling good and we managed to get to the top of the hill in the company of two other guys who stopped at the top to answer the call (or maybe to throw up in the bushes). A few miles later, the two of us were working hard to maintain 15 mph on Pumpkintown Road as we headed WSW into the teeth of the wind. We made it to the informational control, gathered our ribbons, and moved on with just 12 miles to the turn-around. Another couple of stops for a nature break and to pump up a tire separated us and I found myself at the base of Caesar’s Head about to start the 6.5 mile climb.
At about the same time at home in Chatham County, my darling wife Beth was reading the Caller ID on our phone. She didn’t recognize the number, but since I was out on a ride, and since she’s a little bit of a worrier, she answered it. Here’s how the conversation went (with Beth’s thoughts in parentheses).
Caller: Hello Beth?
Beth: Yes, this is Beth Anderson.
Caller: This is J.D. so-and-so (Jerry has a riding friend named JD--Oh
&*(^ !!) with the North Carolina State Troopers (What has he gone and done now?!) Association.
Beth: IS THIS ABOUT MY HUSBAND JERRY PHELPS!?
Caller: What? Maam? Who’s Jerry?
Beth: My husband—He’s on a bike ride somewhere in North or South Carolina?
Caller: No maam. I’m calling to ask for a donation to the North Carolina Troopers Association . . . . . . . . . . . . (When he gets home, if he isn’t dead he’ll wish he was—and JD too!!)
Blissfully unaware of the fate that awaited me, I was oh-so-slowly making my way up the mountain. About two miles up, I started to hear the crinkling sound of something hitting the leaves in the forest and seconds later there were little bits of ice bouncing off me, my bike and the road. It would continue snowing or sleeting until just before the summit. A few minutes later, as I was gasping for breath on the shoulder (OK, heaving for breath), Branson came along looking as strong and powerful as we all know he is. So I climbed back on and the two of us finished our crawl to the top.
(Branson happy to be on the way down!)
Bethany and Steve were there to greet us with hot chocolate, bagels, peanut butter, energy bars, and a wide assortment of other drinks and high calorie food. I’m guessing the temperature was about 30 degrees. We grabbed some food and refilled our bottles. I retired to the rest room to put on the extra shirt I had carried for what I knew would be a frigid descent. I met Chuck Lathe's wife Nina in the Ranger Station (thanks to her for the picture of the start). Branson and I started the descent which should have been fun, but was really agonizing. My face and ears were immediately in pain from the wind chill, even with my hands constantly clawing at the brake levers. We passed a lot of the uphill-bound riders all looking strong and making great progress. When we reached the bottom, which is really about 8 miles long, the wind hit us full in the face, but fortunately as we turned on Pumpkintown Road again, we got a kicking tail wind that jumped our speed up to 21-22 mph without a great deal of effort.
In Marietta we stopped at the Burger King to warm up as much as anything and to get some fuel for the rest of the trip. Fifteen miles later came the climb back up Callahan. I stopped half-way up to snap some pictures of the stone bridge and to keep my heart from breaking out of my ribcage.
(Stone bridge on the state road from Greenville to Asheville constructed in 1826)
Over that hill and another 5 miles down the road, I saw a beautiful steel Mercien with exquisite lugs and a stunning paint job leaned up against the outside of a tiny store. I knew there could only be one of those in the world and it belongs to Glenn Himstedt, but in my hypoxic state I couldn’t figure out how he’d gotten ahead of us. I pulled over and found Glenn inside the store which, by the way, hasn’t seen a coat of paint in 50 years and Glenn's bike is probably worth more than the store and it's contents. He clued me in that he hadn’t stopped in Marietta—duh! Branson came along, and after the three of us had downed enough high fructose corn syrup to keep a farmer in Iowa warm for the winter, we took off for the remaining 20 miles.
Those miles went pretty quickly. At the finish, Bethany and Steve had arrived a little while before and had already laid out a spread that would rival a Clemson-USC tailgate party. After a quick shower at the hotel, we traipsed back over to the finish to welcome other riders and to express our appreciation to Bethany and Steve for such a well-run event and for all the goodies. I made a special request that Bethany dial back the wind for the 300 km brevet scheduled for April 5th—a request that should be easy to grant. According to Branson, the average wind speed in Spartanburg on Saturday was 21.9 mph! Congrats to everyone who braved the elements.