Sunday, July 5, 2009

Firecracker 400 / July 4th 400K / Statesville NC

Don't look now, but we're developing a regional identity on the mid-Atlantic brevets. Put on a randonneuring event in Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina or the Tar Heel state of North Carolina, and you're likely to pull riders from a three or four-state area. This is an encouraging trend. As we ride and swap stories with talented randonneurs from neighboring states, we're forging new bonds of friendships and allegiances among our various clubs.

And so it was on the July 4 400K out of Statesville, N.C., hosted by RBA Tony Goodnight. The event drew 15 riders. About half of the riders were locals. The others came from Georgia (Wendy, David, Gator, Leslie), Tennessee (Bill), South Carolina (Phil) and Indiana (Bob).

The start time was a new one for me: 12:01 a.m. That meant we'd be writing off sleep that first night and counting on the dawn sun and our biological clocks to recharge us at mile 90 or so. Also, to get me through the night, I downed a Starbucks double shot espresso at the ride start.

The pre-ride description of the course sounded "scenic," to borrow a word from our DC-Rand friends. Translation: hills stacked upon hills like a seven-layer cake. Our route took us from the edge of the Piedmont into the serious slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, very near Mt. Mitchell, the highest point on the East Coast. We'd start with a climb over Brushy Mountain, cycle a seven-mile uphill stretch to the Alpine village of Little Switzerland (elevation: 3,455 ft.) on the Blue Ridge Parkway, then climb back up to the Parkway after dropping off the back side. Of course, there were a couple of unadvertised specials, like a one-mile climb up from a creek on the return trip, and lots of painfully rolling stretches on Blue Rock Road near Burnsville.

The group rolled out of the Economy Inn with great enthusiasm, with Branson and the Georgia crew setting a rich pace. We hung together until Brushy Mountain sent out heavy gravity waves that pulled the pack apart. It was there that David logged the group's first mechanical: a broken rear derailleur cable. He apparently soldiered on, pushing big gears for the remaining 220 miles. Not a fun way to do this challenging course.

I rode most of the night/day with Branson, Lynn and Joel. I'm using ride together loosely since Lynn, a superb climber, was off the front any time the world turned vertical. We lost Joel towards the end of ride when he opted to give his legs a breather in the heat.

We finished up at 9:32, for a total time of 21:31. Joel showed up a few minutes behind us. A shout-out to Brother Rob, who finished just after midnight, for his first successful 400K.

Some mental / emotional snapshots along the way: The clerk at the Lenoir Fast Stop who wouldn't sign her name to our cards -- unless her last name happens to be Fast Stop....the incredible climb up 226-A -- seven miles of no-traffic, shaded, scenic bliss...Joel's unflaggingly positive attitude -- he's always a joy to ride with...two iced Cheerwines in glass bottles that cheered up my parched innards....the mental cussing on Blue Rock Road....the Steak House in Marion, where we had a sit-down breakfast...Phil C smiling as he changed a flat; he kept our visitor from Indiana company...the view of Mt. Mitchell on the blue-ridged horizon...the rock caves carved into the road beside Emerald City, where we got big scoops of ice cream and sat on a shaded bench...the smell of burning brakes from the camper/trailer on the long descent down 80....the dog that charged out into the road as I was descending a steep hill at around 35 mph -- a very narrow miss....afternoon clouds that dropped the temperature a good 10 degrees...the July 4th fireworks exploding in the sky as we neared the finish in Statesville.

Another great day on the bikes. A big thanks to Tony for opening up a whole new series of adventures.

A few pix:

The view as the sun climbed the sky and we neared the mountains.

RBA Tony Goodnight.

This is about as "scenic" as it gets.

Lynn at the last control before the finish.

Branson and Joel at the Blue Ridge Parkway and 80.

Bikers: only 13 curves to Little Switzerland.


Kevin T said...

Fabulous looking ride. I'm envious of all the cross-pollination you get at your brevets.

And I really liked the part about the "gravity waves." Ha!

dean furbish said...

Rockin' Rob!

Good to see pics of Branson, Joel, Lynn, and Tony.

Thanks, Mike, for chronicling this great ride---the way you do it---for the rest of us to enjoy.