The calls and email started trickling in on Friday afternoon. Was I still planning to do the Spartanburg 300K?
Had I seen the forecast?
Umm. Yes, I’d seen it.
In fact, seen it on every weather Web site I could pull up. Looking for one that promised something more optimistic. But I couldn’t find it. They were all the same. 100 percent chance of rain. Heavy at times. 1-2 inches expected.
Yes, several of my riding buddies had been eyeing the weather. Now they were bailing like the management team at Enron. But I was in, come hell or high water – and most likely the latter. I’d signed up for the S.C. 300K, and I had pride on the line, that suspect human emotion that usually comes before the fall.
I’d promised to give riding buddy Jerry a lift. When I talked to him he was still gung ho. And riding buddy Branson was still in.
And so there you go. Rain Men. Without the math skills.
Jerry and I drove down to Spartanburg after work, stopped for a barbecue dinner at Jimmy’s in Lexington. As we neared our destination, waves of driving rain lashed the car. At one point we hydroplaned helplessly, a sick feeling of the car slip-sliding at 60 mph until the wheels found a shallow spot and grabbed asphalt.
I feared this was just the appetizer tray for the storm that would be dished up tomorrow.
We pulled up to the Quality Inn near the start and began unloading the bikes in a heavy rain. That’s when Jerry discovered he was missing one of his nuts – specifically, the one that fits on the end of his front wheel skewer. Without it his bicycle was unrideable. We searched for about a half hour on the wet, black pavement and in the back of my car. We even recruited the guy from the front desk. No luck. It looked like Jerry’s ride might be over before it started.
Jerry went off to his room, perhaps to contemplate his good fortune, while I went to mine and did a final set-up on the Coho, the Weather Channel in the background painting a meteorological picture of Doom and Gloom. Not much had changed in the forecast, except now the forecasters had begun to overlay tornado warning grids on the region just east of us.
How to pack for this ride? The only thing I knew to do was overpack. And so I crammed two extra pairs of socks, an extra skull cap, extra gloves in my Berthoud bag. The thing bulged like a beer belly in a Father’s Day t-shirt. Overpacked? You bet.
Branson arrived about 11:00 and took the second bed in the room. We talked weather and we talked PBP07, another epic rain event with better pastry options.
Come morning, the streets were still wet, the skies jam-packed with low clouds, but no rain was falling. Perhaps the weather forecasters had missed it. Perhaps the sky would lift and the sun would come out and we’d have a good laugh at all of our buddies who’d bagged the ride.
Perhaps I’d find a gold nugget in a creek bed while fishing for speckled trout. Anything could happen.
Speaking of finds, Jerry located the skewer nut. Catastrophe averted. Turns out it was in the last place he looked. He was back in the big show!
We had breakfast with Tom and Mary Florian, a delightful randonneuring couple from Lumberton. They’ve only been cycling for three years but they’re as gung ho as the rest of us and exceptionally strong riders. For a flatlander, Tom is a monster up the hills.
Over a toasted bagel Tom told the story of how a ferry gate (!) had busted his seat at the start of a multi-day ride, forcing him to ride about 100 miles with a duct tape repair until he found a replacement. During the ride, Mary would tell the same story, but with a few details that were lacking in Tom’s version.
We rolled over to the start at 6:40 or so and met SC RBA Bethany Davison. She was all sly smiles. Yes, there’d be a bit of rain, she said, but it would taper off by the afternoon. Haha, hey what’s that shiny thing in the creek?
Here's Bethany, Branson and Jerry at the start.
There were six hardy randonneurs lined up for the event. Rounding out the field was an S.C. rider named Jack.
Our ragtag crew hit the road promptly at 7. No lie: it began raining within 200 yards of the start. Light at first, the kind of rain you’d call refreshing if you happened to see it out the bay window of your living room while you lounged next to a crackling fire, your favorite book open in your lap.
Five miles up the road, we were caught in the middle of a sho nuff rain storm. We stopped at the first turn and I pulled on the rain jacket. My feet were soaked. My hands were soaked. This was going to be a long day. I sat on the back for a good part of the morning as the pace was a little rich for my puny legs.
Mercifully, the heavy rain abated and the light or misty rain we enjoyed until mid afternoon was bearable and at times downright pleasant, especially with the mild temperatures. We were wet, yes, but we were never really cold.
The roads were a mess, the worst I’d seen on any ride. The gully washers from the day before had littered the asphalt with gravel and mud and debris. I was the only one with fenders. The others soon had their jerseys and jackets splattered with red mud.
We lost Jack off the back shortly before Marietta. As for me, I struck out on my own from the 55-mile control when the others stopped for a biscuit and a break. That gave me a chance to gather myself back up with some easy pedaling at my own pace, a perfect tonic for tired legs.
Branson reeled me like a mackerel near Liberty, while Jerry caught us about 10 miles from the turnaround in Piercetown. Tom and Mary apparently dropped back when Mary had a mechanical issue coming up a hill.
We had a burger or fish sandwich at the turnaround, where Bethany’s husband Steve took a couple snapshots, signed our cards and cheered us on.
Here's Branson at the turnaround....
I suffered back to the Holly Springs store before finally getting my legs back. Odd, as I filled my water bottles out front, one of the locals came out with a toy fishing rod. Maybe there was a good trout stream nearby.
We stopped again in Marietta for a meal and chatted with Bethany and her husband Steve at the Burger King. Our spirits were good, but as we sat inside, eating the second fast food meal of the day, the rain returned, this time as heavy as at the start. We rode for the next hour in a downpour before it tapered off to a light rain and a mist.
We finished at 9 or so, about an hour or two after the dark curtain dropped. Bethany and Steve were waiting with V8s and turkey sandwiches. Branson and I chatted them up while Jerry rode back over to the hotel and talked the desk clerk into a half-price room where we showered, washing road grime down the drain before the four-hour drive home.
When we stopped for gas on the way back I had a hunch. I went inside the gas mart.
One Gold Rush game ticket, I said.
Sorry, the clerk said. Sold out.
Haha. So much for hunches.
Postscript: I nearly forgot a highlight of the ride. With so much water on the roads and on the bikes, the only thing that was dry were our chains. For about 20 miles we endured that horrible scraping sound of metal on metal. My chain felt brittle. On every hill I expected it to snap. When we climbed up to a T-intersection, we saw a guy in an AT&T van pulled off the road. Jerry rode up to him and asked whether he might have a small bit of oil on board. Yes he did, as it turned out. He fished around in the back of the van and pulled out a fresh quart of Valvoline motor oil. Will this work, he asked? Damn straight! He may as well have handed a quart of sweet wine to a street drunk. I poured a healthy dose on the bottom pulley of our derailleurs as Branson worked the pedals.
There were no more squeaks that day.
Update: Looks like the forecasters were dead-on with their predictions. A local newspaper article reported that "1.2 inches of rain had fallen at the [Greenville-Spartanburg] airport as of 9 p.m. Saturday."