Once again, the alarm didn’t quire go off on time, so I was scrambling at the start. The hotel buffet breakfasts have been diminishing since Texas and Arkansas, so all I could grab on my way to the ride was a banana. There were donuts and scones at the start, but no coffee. No coffee.

Still, 400+ riders did show up for a good cause!

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Once again, I was off to a good start until I tried to go into the big ring and dropped the chain. By an hour in, I was bonking hard. Time for the Bonk Breaker! It helped, as did some air in my tires at the first rest stop.

(ps ride organizers, 1st rest stop at Mile 24?)

Realizing that I wasn’t going to get to my goal of a 4-hour metric, I decided to get the picture of the beautiful purple trees I’d been seeing for days. They were these lone bursts of color, usually against a barren backdrop, like this:

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Nashville! Live music in the airport terminal!

After the rental car, off to Trace Bikes for a pretty girly Trek Lexa and some bike-related jewelry that supports their junior racing team:

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When I arrived at the hotel, I knew I was among my people:

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But I still loaded my bike into the room.

I saw a stray kitty in the parking lot. The desk attendant assured me they fed her.

It seemed crazy late when I wandered over to the Mexican restaurant next door, but my ride wasn’t early, so…

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The warmup ride was about a half hour south at Union College in Barbourville. It’s election season here, for everything from judge to jailer.

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I arrived right when registration opened at 10 – for a noon start – so I wandered around the festival of Appalachian culture.

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I also saw a quilting exhibit from a preacher’s personal collection. As far as I could tell, his parishioners would give him biblical-themed quilts (and many of those themes seemed a serious stretch). There was a video playing of him discussing the quilts… it all had a weird performance-art feeling to it.

A little after noon, the ride started, and it felt good – until I dropped my chain shifting up into the big ring and lost the group I was riding with. And that’s how the day went. Lots of rollers, lots of wind, and a constant feeling of being behind, even though I wasn’t DFL. I kept seeing these amazing purple trees, but didn’t want to stop to take any pictures, because I knew I still had to drive hours back to Tennessee that night. By the time I got back to the start, the t-shirts and food were packed up and gone.

But Kentucky was done!
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On my drive back, starving and in need of protein, I saw a sign… and took a detour:
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In which the best laid plans…

Bicycle and teammate Kate of Happy Hour Body in the French Quarter:

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In retrospect, I should’ve asked for gatorskins on both wheels…

We had the good fortune to have a friend with roots on both sides of the relay and willingness to fly in to be our getaway driver. Melissa is from New Orleans, has family in Pensacola, and worked as an assistant director. In other words, fun and organized. Exactly what you need when you’re jet-lagged or bike-brained, or just in need of a good time.

Old-school carboloading at Morning Call:

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Warm up ride (to cover the Louisiana miles the course wouldn’t in advance) on Lake Pontchartrain:

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Which was 8 miles of twilight gnattiness out and 8 miles of headwind back. It occurred to me that there shouldn’t be headwinds in that direction…

The next morning, our crew arrived at the East New Orleans Comfort Inn, and no sooner was I set up on the bike but I was off!

GCI start

The first leg was a loop. My legs felt good, the course had blinky lights at the turns, and then I made the second turn, and…

Headwinds (please hear Jerry Seinfeld saying, “Newman” here).

Headwinds and the realization that this was the direction we’d be heading all day.

Still, I found a good group to ride with – three solo riders who were pushing the pace a little, but good to hang with in the dark.

Past refineries, past pho restaurants, through deserted industrial regions and out into the middle of nowhere. A rest stop at a dive bar that opened its doors for us to use the bathrooms well before dawn.

And then at 30 miles, Amy, one if the soloists, flatted, and our entire group (eight or so) stopped to help. Ricky, the guy who was with the two soloing women, changed it and urged us to check our own. Sure enough, my front tire (I had been on Amy’s now-flat back wheel) was flat, too. Ricky had it changed and we were rolling in no time at all!

Me and my hero at the Mississippi State line:

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Louisiana, DONE!

Shortly thereafter, I handed off to Kate, who had no problem keeping up with Amy and Ricky’s friend Jocelyn’s blistering pace. (Her middle name on Facebook is “Quadzilla” and they were using this as a training ride for the Texas Ironman.) The plan was to trade off every 16-18 miles throughout the day, get to near the Florida border before dark, and let me ride in the last 41 miles (and pick up 20 some miles in Florida on a recovery ride Sunday morning).

The plan went well in Mississippi. Ricky would drop back from the lead girls to help me with the headwinds. At each stop, we’d adjust the seat, swap shoes, send off the other rider, and stretch, eat, drive up to the next turn.

Melissa did an amazing job of staying on top of directions, snapping shots for the scavenger hunt, and generally boosting morale. She gets her own post about the adventure, because getaway drivers deserve their due.

She also gets credit for these photos of me at the Mississippi-Alabama border, 80 miles in to my mileage, but almost the halfway point of the ride:

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Mississippi, DONE!

We rode up to exchange #18 – the halfway point of the ride and a major exchange, with food and a drugstore to visit. As Melissa was down at the tent (and I was inside), she saw a wall of rain appear in the distance, and engulf everyone. Kate took the worst of it, her quads pelted at first by rain, then by hail.

The weather had begun.

My first leg in Alabama might have been my best – it certainly felt my best, although the Strava data suggests otherwise.

The only place a marker board was stolen was in front of FBI headquarters in Mobile – where I ran a red light (I had stopped, no one was coming) with impunity:

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I handed off to Kate at the USS Alabama, and we lingered for some photos:

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On my last leg, I needed to stop for food at one of the turns before I handed off again. Poor Kate headed out into what was now a rainstorm. Amy and Jocelyn decided to stop for good, but Ricky persisted on. Night was falling quickly, and we were diligent about stopping the car at every turn to make sure we stayed on course.

As we passed Kate, she asked us to get a picture of her in the rain gear. This was the best I could do:

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We got to the next turn, we saw her get through the turn, and we zoomed up to the next turn, a few miles away, to wait. I ate. We waited. We waited some more. We thought we saw the headlight on the bike. Some motorists stopped to see if we needed help. (We had the hazards on.)

At 8:15, we decided to go back and see if Kate needed help. We hadn’t seen Ricky either. As we approached the turn where we’d last stopped, we grew apprehensive. They’d disappeared. We retraced our steps, driving slowly, looking apprehensively into ditches in the dark. Nothing. We tried to persuade ourselves that they’d somehow passed us when we were looking at the maps and rode up to exchange 29. They hadn’t been there. I texted on the team leader group thread, asking if anyone had seen Kate or Ricky. I texted Kate.

Finally, a response. Kate and Ricky were at a toll booth. Not on the course. We got their location and sped there, letting Amy and Jocelyn know where to find us. Their phones were dying, and toll booths are tricky to find in the pitch black during a thunderstorm.

We found our teammates, who had followed arrows painted on the road – they just weren’t our event’s arrows. It was close to 9pm, and I couldn’t ask Kate to get back out there again (the rules specified that lost riders had to ride back to where they got lost, and it simply wasn’t a safe road for that). We called it, with about 50 miles to go. We waited to reunite Ricky with his teammates while Melissa called her uncle in Pensacola to let him know our ETA.

Weirdly, it didn’t feel like defeat. It felt as if we’d done the smart thing, under the circumstances. Hail and headwinds had made the goal unattainable for us, and it was better to get a good night’s sleep than get hit by a car – or worse, lightning – trying to avoid a DNF. After all, isn’t death the ultimate DNF?

An hour or so later, we were in a warm house in Pensacola, having a drink and regaling Melissa’s uncle with tales of our adventures. He thought we were insane. I’m not sure he was wrong. He also had a kitty welcoming committee!
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Miss Judy

Which kind of resembled my home team:
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In the morning, we headed to the finish line to turn in our scavenger hunt (we won by default), get some photo ops and swag, and pick up a cocktail for Uncle Butch:

GCI team finish

GCI finish pelican

And then we headed back to New Orleans, stopping in Alabama to let me pick up my 10 missing miles there.

So, 3 of 4 states done, and I’ll have to head back to Florida at some point to pick that one off. Still, way more fun than almost any event so far. It’s really great to ride with friends!

Lots of travel:

Arkansas
Texas

Run the DONE column up to 29

New States and Events!
(Joining the Gulf Coast Interstate Relay and Pedal for Paws)

30 Days of Biking April 1-30
(Everywhere! Take the pledge!)

Finish the Ride April 27 (not a new state, but this is an event worth supporting)

Cycle Against Violence May 17 (Colorado)

Tour de Cure Fargo June 14 (North Dakota, Minnesota)
Sponsor me!

Climate Ride Midwest September 6-9 (Michigan, Indiana, Illinois)
Support the Alliance for the Great Lakes

And now it’s easier to list the remaining states that I need to register for than the ones I’ve done.

Iowa
Kentucky
Nebraska
North Carolina
Ohio
Oklahoma
Pennsylvania
South Dakota
West Virginia
Wisconsin

Help me get clever and tuck them into existing rides. If you’re in one of those states when I’m nearby, take me on a training ride for YOUR charity event, and I’ll sponsor you!

And the March Strava update, just so you can see how undertrained I am…

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Another sunrise, another starting line:

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The roads approaching the start were pretty rough, so I opted for the 100k instead of the 100 mile route.

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I started out with a pretty speedy group, and felt compelled to take a turn at the front… Turning us onto the wrong route!

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We did get back on track (before Scranton) and also swung through Paris, where I had the privilege of visiting my first Wal-Mart ever.

From the Wal-Mart to the finish, I had company. A gentleman whose name I never caught, and Sherri from Dallas, who was recovering from a broken back and hip last season – and training for a trip to Italy in May. Great company, and kept it from being a very lonely ride.

The scenery was pretty, the roads a little craggy. Still, no cracks like the one that took out the rider Thursday, no rumble strips at the side. Some chipseal, more than a few aggressive motorists with unsecured loads in their pickup beds. Roadkill tally: 5 possums, 2 squirrels, 1 turtle.

The final stretch was the treacherous terrain that gave rise to me 100K decision (see hill profile on route slip above). Lots of wineries with very sad looking vines. I cracked up at the posh sign for Chateau Aux Arc once I said it aloud. Not the Santa Rita Hills, that’s for sure.

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Post Familie served a lovely lunch and muscadine mimosas, which were lovely to look at, but not to my taste. I had to drive back, so I limited my wine tasting to a couple of the dry (the tasting list ran very very sweet) varietals, and the Seyval Blanc was a good $9 food wine.

The cause:

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The post-ride binge back in Alma:

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I had the smokehouse sampler, which had sufficient leftovers for breakfast with the hotel buffet biscuits the next morning.

They were also advertising this ride:

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Which I realized was for a different kind of bike club, but if you’re in Alma on April 26?

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Our itinerary for the day:

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The R2R techs setting up an awesome Raleigh Revenio for me:

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And I am ready to roll! To quote one of the riders, “if it ain’t rainin’, we ain’t trainin’!”

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One of the great things about Ride2Recovery is that it’s a group ride. You stay with your group, faster riders push slower riders, SAG support is right behind to swap out a wheel if you flat!

I chose to start with the slower of the two groups because I wanted to talk to the other riders. Everyone had amazing stories, but what I witnessed: the camaraderie, the way that getting on a bike (a bike that fits with full tires) makes troubles disappear? This is a very valuable program helping heroes heal.

As we rolled with the gentle hills (Strava gives me 1780 feet of elevation gain for the whole day) we saw lots of critters (that I was not going to attempt to photograph while rolling with a peloton): four horses that raced us to the end of their paddock, many dogs racing us in their yards, a mama goat nursing her kids. I saw my first armadillo – as road kill that I only narrowly missed.

Our first school stop. Of course it’s raining, but the kids were excited to meet the veterans!

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Lunch at our second school – in the drama classroom. Flashbacks!!!

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That flag was a gift from a student that is now tucked in a helmet!

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The sun came out after lunch. The pavement had a lot of cracks. I narrowly missed one, but heard a rider behind me go down. Well, over the handlebars. Separated shoulder.

Our last stop was at Rio Vista ISD. As elsewhere in the day, the entire school system, K-12, is contained in one building.

Snacks for us:

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The middle school band rocked, but the highlight if the day was the elementary school choir singing and signing “God Bless America”!

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We rode the last 13 or so miles as a single swift group in the sunshine. I’ve never heard “Yee-haw!” used unironically so many times in one day.

A great day with great men and women who have served our nation.

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You can support this cause and ride with this group Saturday at the Honor Ride in Fort Worth, or with other healing heroes. There are rides coming up on either side of the Amgen Tour of California, and a new ride in Chicago in June.

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Well, if the point of this massive excursion was to see a lot of the country?

That’s definitely going to happen.

I didn’t really think through what being a one-day rider for the Texas Ride2Recovery Challenge would entail. Or that Texas and Arkansas weren’t really that close to each other.

This:
Fly to Texas using donated Virgin America miles (Thank you, Rebecca Scott!)
Take the Waco Streak from DFW to Waco
Rent bike in Waco (Thank you Outdoor Waco for a 7am coffee shop opening time!)
After riding Waco-Cleburne, renting a car in Cleburne to return to the bike to Waco.
Amtrak from Cleburne to Forth Worth.
Public transit from Fort Worth to DFW to pick up my rental car.
Rent Bike in Frisco (Thank you Richardson Bike Mart for advising me which store best suits my needs!)
Drive to Arkansas.
Ride Arkansas Wine Country 100.
Find a group ride in Oklahoma for Sunday. (Please chime in with suggestions below!)
Ride.
Return bike to Frisco.
Drive back to DFW.
Fly home.

If I can pull this off? The state count hits 30!

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