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It was a long journey to the Yonah Dam, and little of it was easy. Two days before I left for Georgia, I succumbed to the cold everyone around me had been suffering through. The night before, I was frantically finishing laundry. I knew I’d need my long bike pants. I also realized that my white skull cap hadn’t made it home from New Mexico. When I arose at 4am, I wondered if I’d regret the minutes I spent cherishing a rare snuggle with our skittish kitten Larry. When I arrived at the airport and saw the security line snaking all the way to Terminal 2, I feared I was doomed to miss my flight. Armed with my boarding pass, I marched to the A-List entrance, and was waved through. The TSA agent chatted me up while I waited for the x-ray. Straight to the gate and onto the plane and down for a nap.

It wasn’t until I was in the rental car in Atlanta that I heard about the LAX shooting. I was fortunate in so many ways: fortunate to be on an early flight, fortunate to be headed out from Terminal 1, fortunate to not be a target.

When I got to Cycleworks in Duluth, they were ready for me and my pedals, and took enough time fitting my bike for me to realize that I’d left not only my long bike pants, but all my bike shorts at home. (I usually pack two or more outfits so I’m prepared for whatever weather I wake up to ride day.) I found a cute pair of Bontrager knickers on sale, they fit, sold. I decided not to replace the missing beanie… I didn’t think it would be that cold at 9am Saturday. I was worried – again – about finishing in time to get the bike back before their 6pm closing, as I was flying out very early Sunday morning, but they assured me that if I let them know, they’d stay late for me.

From Duluth, I headed another hour and a half to Toccoa, not far from the South Carolina state line. According to the 2010 Census data, the population is 8,491. Most of the town was shut down for the night by the time I went out to explore dinner options. Some fellow riders suggested that the only option was Applebee’s, but the front desk clerk suggested M&J’s Buffet, ($8, home cooking, all you can eat and sweet tea) so I headed out for some home cooking. I kept reassuring myself that I was riding 100 miles the next day, and I didn’t need to worry about how much brown sugar and butter were involved in making the sweet potatoes so delicious. That batter on the fried chicken was just carbo-loading. Home, alarm set for 7, tucked in.

At 8:15 I woke up to find that I hadn’t set my alarm for 7. The ride started at 9. I needed to check out of the hotel and find the mystery starting point. Frenzy! My phone’s map got me near the ride start, but not quite there.

I headed onto the unbelievably road not long after the official start, satisfied that a windbreaker and my regular (no-finger) gloves would be sufficient. About a mile out, I started to click up into higher gears, and my bike started making a horrible noise. I pondered turning around and seeing a mechanic at the start, but I was very concerned about time. I wasn’t sure where the first rest stop would be, but I felt certain there’d be someone there, and that it was probably good for me to spend the first hour or so warming up by spinning in the lower gears.

As I rode through the campus of Toccoa Falls College, a SAG vehicle was stopped to help a rider with a flat. The driver wasn’t a mechanic, but the rider did have some tools. He was concerned about working on my bike, though, so I headed down the road.

Twenty six miles after the start, I pulled up to the Currahee Club Clubhouse, the poshest rest stop in the history of cycling rest stops. Indoor plumbing! Cookies in little plastic bags! Bananas! Bottled water! Chatty club employees! If you’re in the neighborhood between now and Christmas, you should definitely check out the custom home showcase!

Alas, no mechanic, but just as I pulled out of the development, another SAG truck pulled by, and he could help me! As it turned out, nothing was wrong with the gears, but there was a wire that the great mechanics at Cycleworks had adjusted so it didn’t hit my leg that was now hitting the chain. Tweaked, off I went, with the full range of gearing available to me.

Despite my illness-induced sluggishness, I wasn’t the lanterne rouge when I arrived at the second rest stop with only a few miles left in Georgia:

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Of course, I Instragrammed the shot, not realizing how spectacularly unflattering my new pedal-pushers were. Oh, well, they were comfortable and the chamois was outstanding.

And then I was in South Carolina, united with the shorter courses, breathing a sigh of relief. One of the veteran riders staying at the hotel had said he didn’t do the century because it was too hilly. I assumed that meant the hills were over.

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I was wrong. (spoiler alert: I finished the ride)
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So yeah, a lot of climbing ahead in South Carolina (Appalachian foothills, duh). But the course was well-marked, and every time I successfully turned or crossed an intersection, one of these guys was waiting for me:

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Cultural differences I noted: People in rural Georgia and South Carolina don’t leash their dogs. Dogs like to chase things. I don’t really think I was fast enough to outride those dogs, but most gave up before they got me. Perhaps they were repulsed my the snot rockets I kept firing.

I reached the last rest stop at almost 6pm. Cycleworks’ closing time. And I was an hour and half north. The rest stop volunteers called Cycleworks for me (I don’t want to discuss Sprint’s service in that part of the country), and the Roswell store said they’d call Duluth for me. I was in bike brain mode, and the sun was setting as I crossed the border back into Georgia:

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I finished!

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I drove straight to the car, threw everything in, and hauled out without saying hi to anyone associated with the ride (all of whom were busy packing up, anyway). A dog stood in the road as I pulled up, and had no intention of letting my puny rental car pass. Finally, its owner berated it out of the road.

Eventually, my phone and data service kicked in. I had directions to Cycleworks, and an embarrassingly late ETA. I called and relayed the bad news. For the mere cost of an extra day’s rental (and they really should have charged me for two days in the first place) they agreed to stay late. As I drove back, I listened to the Gators-Dogs game on the radio. Despite my fraught relationship with canines on this trip, for that hour, my loyalties lay with the Georgia Bulldogs.

Bike returned, I headed down to the Atlanta Airport Marriott. The prospect of a shower and an extra hour of sleep was sweet. I wondered how I’d feel after the shower. Would I just be lame and order room service, or get out and explore Atlanta, a city I really haven’t visited? I really wish that I was Anthony Bourdain, who, when totally exhausted, says, “go out” (Watch the the Tokyo After Dark video to see what I mean.)

Rental car filled with gas and valet parked, its driver checked in and showered, I opted to wander downstairs and investigate the hotel restaurants.

Across a crowded lobby, at the bar, this beckoned to me:

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I ate it.

And then I very carefully set my smart phone alarm for 5am. It changed itself back to standard time. And woke me up at 4am anyway. Which I didn’t realize until I was on the shuttle train from the rental car return to the airport.

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