Thursday, February 18, 2010

Benson Mule Pull Populaire, Valentine's Day, 2010

The kernel for this route was planted a couple years back when Mike D, Bob O, and I did a 40-something-mile January training ride from my house to Benson for lunch and back. I added just enough miles to turn it into a 105km populaire, stretching the start/end points from my house into Garner at the conveniently located Forrest Hills Shopping Center just off of US 70.

Creative wordsmith Mike D is credited with providing a catchy route name based on the fact that Benson is widely known for its annual Mule Days celebration the fourth Saturday each September. Among the many festivities are mule-pulling contests and mule races.

Sridhar suggested that we do the inaugural ride of the newly approved populaire this past weekend on Valentine’s Day. The thinking was that some of our local randonneurs might enjoy the option of a “short” weekend ride to match their upcoming brevet ride schedule but also avoid the bad weather the day before. It turns out that this was the case as a half-dozen riders participated.

An occasional snow creation was spotted now and again along the route. But the road surfaces were not only dry but clear of ice even in shaded areas.

Snow runoff was evident, particularly passing the mill located on Massengill pond.

Since the populaire is billed as a “Rolling ride from near the state capital to the mule capital” of North Carolina, I thought this cute little guy hanging out with his big buddies on Massengill Pond Rd would make a nice mascot.

Never mind his indifference to the fact that a group of brightly clad cyclists just rode past.

We soon catch up to these fresh cyclists awaiting a group photo at the Willow Spring control at the edge of Wake County. After just fifteen miles into the ride they don’t look too beat down.

Picture courtesy of Bryan Rierson (l to r): Bryan, Maria, Alan, Mike, Dean, Sridhar.

Riders took turns challenging themselves and each other on the ten-mile stretch of rolling terrain just after the first control.

The lead changed hands several times on the not-too-steep but extended climbs: now Maria, now Bryan, now Sridhar. Riders regrouped on the flat section just before heading into Benson.

After some refreshing moments in the sun,

everyone left the Benson control together.

When we turned left onto Benson-Hardee Rd off of NC 50, we met the wind head-on and immediately formed a paceline with Sridhar in yellow doing the honors of pulling.

Soon we turned north and the westerly wind became inconsequential.

There always seems to be less climbing on the return on this route in spite of the elevation gain from Benson back to Raleigh. Maybe it’s because the ole horse, or mule in this case, knows he’s headed to the barn.

The horsing around wasn’t finished. Bryan leads off the front all the way to the next control. Just how far ahead is a topic that remains in dispute. Alan distances himself from the rest of us in time to win the Wake County line sprint. Just before the Willow Spring control, Maria and Sridhar point out road names which happen to have “fish” in their name for my benefit: Fishhook, Turner Fish. It was one of those days when everyone seemed to enjoy being on the bikes and the recent bad weather that had prevented us from riding was but a memory.

Reaching Garner in the early afternoon meant that there was still time in the day for other things like valentines!

Thanks guys for the great training ride!

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