Sunday, May 17, 2009

"Look! Buffalo, Bill!" / Tar Heel 200 Permanent, May 12, 2009

They say when planets align, things happen. I don’t know about heavenly bodies. But I was on semester break this past week. And brother Bill was in town. Any time Bill and I’ve gotten together in recent years, we’ve done at least one longish bicycle ride. When we visit, the bicycles get dragged along. The only thing different this year was that I was a proud new Permanent owner, so you know what that meant.

Unlike brevets, RUSA members can schedule Permanents to be ridden at any time with permission from the route owner. In recent years, for example, some of our ingenious local riders have scheduled Permanents at night as a respite from the summer heat. Check out Mike D’s report of a midnight excursion, Blackbeard’s Permanent, from Raleigh to the inland coastal waterway, or –B’s account of the Kerr Lake Loop Permanent “Post Card” ride.

Permanent owners are generally an accommodating lot. But ownership has its privileges. It’s simpler than simple to set up a ride. After deciding when you want to ride, all you need to do is print a card, sign a waiver, and write yourself a check.

Check out Bill’s ride . . .

. . . a 1984 aluminum SR900 Cannondale road frame with an Easton carbon fiber front fork and down tube shifters. He built his own 36-3X spoke wheels with Velocity Deep V rims and stainless, butted Wheelsmith spokes and Phil Wood hubs. The Suntour drivetrain with triple cranks and an 11-28 freewheel is anchored to a Phil Wood BB. Bill’s sit bones are keen on the Brooks Professional leather saddle.

This would be Bill’s first randonnée this year. Obviously, the cycling “season” is shorter in Wisconsin than in North Carolina. Bill used to commute by bicycle to work even in winter, except when temperatures sank below 20 degrees, although his real winter exercise and passion has been cross-country skiing. Ten times he’s completed the annual American Birkebeiner, a 54km cross-country ski race.

The forecast for this past Tuesday looked promising, the first dry day since Bill arrived. So we jumped. Bill is not a time traveler and parts of him were still stranded somewhere off in Central Time. Thus we decided to shove off at a civil 8 AM Eastern Time, allowing Sol to sweep away the last bit of fog and coax the start temperatures up into the low-50s.

Bill at the start. We’d experience a 25-degree warm-up under mostly sunny skies.

The Tar Heel 200 starts in Benson, NC, in Johnston County and heads south through Harnett, Cumberland, and Bladen counties. Plenty of opportunity for viewing nature. We saw assorted types of ferns along the road, yellow thistles, Carolina roses, not to mention Spanish moss draping from trees on River Road in Bladen County. Perhaps we’d even get a glimpse of buffalo as we passed the Jambbas Ranch in Cedar Creek.

“Look, Buffalo!”

I’d promised Bill a flat route as an inducement to ride. But as we approached Tar Heel, Bill was on to me. He’d apparently been able to perceive an elevation drop and called my hand. Indeed, there is an undeniable elevation decrease of 118 feet from Benson (elev. 243) to Tar Heel (elev. 125) spread over a distance of 100 kilometers. But how did he know? A water specialist, I’m guessing he spilled some Gatorade in Benson and watched it follow us all the way to the Cape Fear River.

Near Tar Heel, we witnessed truckloads of little piggies that would eventually be going to market. I recall Branson mentioning that the local slaughterhouse is the largest in the world. Indeed, according to Wikipedia,

The largest slaughterhouse in the world is operated by the Smithfield Packing Company in Tar Heel, North Carolina. It is capable of butchering over 32,000 pigs a day.

Bill cruising on the return on River Road in Bladen County.

Trivia question: What is the preferred energy food of some Wisconsin randonneurs?

The Civil War battlefield hospital at Averasboro on the return.

Courteous driver passing on the NC Scenic By-Way section near Averasboro Battlefield.

Bicycle art in Erwin, a couple of blocks off the route and across from the Pizza House,

where we would regroup the next day, along with Deborah, for a meal.

I’m lucky to have family members that not only understand randonneuring but encourage such ridiculousness. Even so, we randonneurs do get genuine and timely positive affirmation when we ride. Call it “positive en-route affirmation.” You know, those spontaneous remarks made by unsuspecting convenient-store clerks and bystanders the very moment they realize just how many miles we’ve ridden! I’ve learned not to brush these animated and sometimes very colorful comments aside, just because they didn’t come from a friend, family member, or colleague, someone I’d wished I’d heard it from. These real-time comments are not only authentic but couldn’t be more well-timed. My advice: Revel in them.

We experienced some positive en-route affirmation on our ride. The regular at the Erwin, NC, control at mile 111 asked me where we’d ridden to that day. When I responded, “Tar Heel,” she exclaimed, “You mean you rode to Tar Heel near Elizabethtown?” To which I simply replied, “Yes, that Tar Heel.” For emphasis, Bill added, “And back.”

At the last control at the Benson Burger King, when it dawned on the cashier signing our cards just how far we’d ridden that day, she blurted almost in disbelief, “You rode how far?”

Burger King employees hanging out with and providing positive en-route affirmation to rock-star, randonneur cyclists. Although they forgot to ask for my autograph. I'll be back.

A fun and memorable day on the bikes, we finished the ride almost two hours slower than the time-trial record for the course set by Lynn, Byron, Jerry, and John a month ago. Now all I have to do is to decide which bike(s) to pack when I visit Bill later this summer. Like our rides last year, the upcoming one should be fun, too.


Lin Osborne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lin Osborne said...

I really enjoyed your write-up, Dean. The route looks great, and I'm glad you got the opportunity to show it to your brother. Fun times!