7th Anniversary Bike Commuting & Why I Ride

Today is my 7th Anniversary of full-time bike commuting. “Big deal”, you say. “You started riding a bike to work, but why keep track of a date like that?”, you say. It is common for people to keep track of significant events in life, certainly birth dates and wedding dates, but also job anniversaries. The lifestyle change to full-time bike commuting is significant enough that many, if not most, bike commuters at least pay it a thought or a mention when it rolls around every year.

So, seven years ago this past January, I decided that I needed to get healthy and fit. And seven years ago this past June, I got back into cycling again. And seven years ago today, just over two months after getting back into cycling, I decided to start riding my bike to work. Every day. And I’ve loved nearly every mile and minute of it.
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BRAG Day 7

Day 7 was a very easy day listed at 65 miles and only 725 feet of elevation gain from Statesboro to Savannah, GA.

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The day started very early. Many BRAGgers are an early bunch, but Day 7 was quite different. I guess the need to ride 65 miles, get cleaned up, get bikes loaded, and then catch your ride (whatever that may be) had people starting especially early. By 05:00, much of the gym was stirring and so was I.

I think our entire group set out with little or no breakfast. The cafeteria was too far away to be of any help and there was rumor of breakfast burritos at the BBQ truck up on the hill, but everyone seemed to rely on the first rest stop to get their feed bag on.

I think the prep went without a hitch for everyone unlike most of the other mornings where one or more of us would have some glitch or would have forgotten something. Maybe you finally get in the groove just on the very last day, which would be irony, for sure.

The route started off nicely with a long bicycle path. If it was one thing I did not expect to find in a small city like Statesboro, it was a long bicycle path.

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Bicycle path in Statesboro, GA

Steve had suggested that we stick together as a group through the first rest stop and then we’d all find our own tempo so we rolled as a group of eight or nine. Shortly after the bike path, we  hit some pretty dense fog. (You can see it slightly in the photo below.) We really felt like we were riding though soup (I called it a “big bowl of cyclist soup”) and everyone was remarking about how it was soaking them or sticking to them. For example, all the hair on my arms was thick with moisture droplets making it look a bit like white fur.

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Alabama Chain Gang early on Day 7

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Rest stop 1 on BRAG Day 7

At the first rest stop, we decided to keep rolling as a group since we were making decent progress. (We ended up with about 16 mph average for the entire 65 miles.) Then the shake and bake started, but I didn’t feel it was nearly as bad as the day before.

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Shake and bake on BRAG Day 7

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More shake and bake on BRAG Day 7

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Lawrence pulling the Alabama Chain Gang Train

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Rest stop 2 or 3 on BRAG Day 7

As we began to approach Savannah, we started encountering a lot of heavy traffic. We spent a few miles on a very large highway with a lot of fast-moving, very large trucks and we were forced onto the shoulder on the other side of rumble strips… into the debris. I’m sure we’ve all seen worse (The Chef Menteur Highway leading into New Orleans, for example), but you hate riding on the shoulder for fear of flats. And indeed, one of our group, Kristen, suffered a flat. Luckily, Steve Solomon’s superpower seems to be fixing flats. He can have a tire and tube off the rim before I can get my tools out of my bag.

We rode into Savannah proper through the docks and industrial side of the city and it wasn’t the most majestic of entrances. Sadly, one of the BRAG riders, a 61 year old woman, was killed when she was thrown in front of a dump truck within throwing distance of the checkered flags setup as the finish at Emmet Park.

The team settled into the box lunches catered for riders while I biked off to the Crystal Beer Parlor in search of Crab Stew and then picked up a few geocaches to earn my badge for Get Outdoors Day. (BTW. Savannah geocaches are quite hard to find. I only found two out of five caches I searched for; much lower than my usual ratio.)

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Enjoying box lunches in Emmet Park in Savannah

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Crab Stew (with cornbread and sherry) at Crystal Beer Parlor in Savannah

The rest of the day was a blur for me. I missed getting my bike on the truck and had to arranged for some other people from Huntsville to care for my steed. (I later learned that they opened a second truck. They really could have told me of that prospect rather than just turning me away.) I also ran around like a headless chicken trying to buy some drinks as I was getting a bit dehydrated after only having beer after the ride and I didn’t want to face the four-hour ride to Atlanta with that thirst. I never did get a shower and had to ride all the way home, stewing in my kit. Goat smell to go with my goatee, anyone?

I’ll post some some retrospection later after I’ve had a chance to sit and think a bit. Overall, I consider BRAG a fantastic experience and I’m so glad that Steve organized a group and that I was able to join them. I met a lot of new people, had some great experiences in cities I would never have visited otherwise, and had a chance to spend many hours in the saddle, which is one of the things I love most. If you come to this post by searching for information about BRAG and are considering joining for the first time, go immediately to signup. Don’t think about it; just do it. I hope this ride continues to be strongly attended many years into the future.

 

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BRGA Day 6

Today was another easy day with the route listed as 53 miles and only 1748 feet of elevation gain from Swainsboro to Statesboro, GA.


Several of us tried to get an early start, but when I went to retrieve my bike, five mins before our planned start time, I found a flat front tire. I ran it to the Cycleworks guys figuring to pay them to change it much faster than I could only to learn that the rim tape had failed and one of the spoke holes had caused the flat. Had I simply changed the tube out, it would have likely failed again out on the ride. Ironically, this exact thing happened to someone else in our group today and she ended up with two flats and a very long day.

The day began with warnings about fog and it was indeed foggy. Before we left Swainsboro, we came upon a bike-car incident and we later had a chance to talk to the guy. He’s about twenty years old and told us that when he slowed to make a turn, a truck ran into him from the rear, carried him for about 40 feet on the hood, and ejected him down the road another 30-40 feet. His helmet was destroyed, but he came away with minor road rash and a sore rear end. He had a great sense of humor about the whole thing and said he would just be looking for the driver to cover his medical and replace his bike.

The fog stayed with us for about the first half of the ride. Some people really didn’t like it, but I didn’t mind so much except that I couldn’t use my visor since it misted up in just a few mins. After fog came the “shake and bake” section of the course, which is what they call the chipseal roads. I think I heard someone say we had about 10 miles of it. If you don’t ride bikes, you won’t know how we hate it. The bumpiness slows you down, siphoning off your momentum and it numbs your contact points.

I rode in a small group today to move a bit faster than previous days and we spent some time riding with a woman from Nashville who was very strong and could help pull us along quite a bit. After the fog at the start, shake and bake in the middle, the entry into Statesboro was smooth and easy.


We’re hosted tonight at Georgia Southern University, which has a very beautiful and very large campus. I doubt I really have the sense of it, but it feels like the size of UA with only one third the buildings. Oh, yeah. It’s sitting in a swamp. Now that doesn’t make it any less beautiful, but it does mean gnats. Stinging gnats. In fact, someone said there was a pond on campus nicknamed “Gnat Pond”. That’s nice.


The indoor camping is in the Recreation and Activity Center or RAC. This facility rivals any that I’ve seen. Absolutely gorgeous. I got in early and finally secured one of the coveted spots along the wall. Now, that’s a bit harder than you may think because you’re not just racing the other riders for those spots. Many have family members or team support people who drive to the next venue and reserve space. There is a group from Roswell, GA of whom I’m particularly jealous. They have at least one and maybe two support vehicles, which both reserves indoor camping space and sets up a hospitality tent complete with iced beer, snacks, chairs, and fans. I want to grow up just like them.


Dinner was nothing to blog about as we ate at the university dining hall. The setup was just like we’ve experienced at Lakewood Dining at UA where you pay an entrance fee at the door and then can visit the many different stations as much as you’d like. EXCEPT FOR ONE RULE! You cannot have more than one dessert at one time. You can sit in there for hours and stuff your face like Augustus Gloop, but if you want more than one dessert, you must order one, eat it, and then return to order the other. I know this because I had the audacity to order a cinnamon cupcake and a peanut butter cookie. Unh uh. For everything that I ate there, it looked a lot better than it tasted.

All in all, Georgia Southern and Statesboro was less welcoming than East Georgia State College and Swainsboro. In Swainsboro, they served huge lunch and breakfast for only $5 and provided free bus rides into downtown. In contrast, GSU closed the showers to BRGA riders, the only food near the overnight venue was a BBQ food truck, there was no transport into to the city (except taxis or Uber), and the dorm rooms they rented out to riders were so far away that many chose to walk away from their fee and camp in the gym rather than lug their bags all that distance. I guess that sounds like a bit of complaining and it is, but only a little. Not a big deal in the overall experience. I guess that’s one of the things about a ride that moves from city. You like some of the cities and venues more than others.

Tomorrow looks to be quite hectic. We’ve got a 65-mile ride and then a bunch of things to do before catching the shuttle back to Atlanta at 16:00. We’ve got to get cleaned up, get our bikes and bags across the river to the truck and buses, and remove our pedals and turn our handlebars. Any site seeing or nice meals (like crab stew with Sherry at the Crystal Beer Parlor) must be squeezed in between all that. There are quite a few geocaches hidden around old town Savannah and I’m hoping to find a few before I have to cross the river.

More tomorrow after our last ride.

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BRAG Day 5

Easy day today with 51 miles and only 1700 feet of elevation gain from Dublin to Swainsboro, GA.


On reflection, Dublin was a nice place to spend two days as there were nice restaurants, a grocery in easy walking distance, and several entertainment events. The only negative I will mention is that the indoor camping venues did not have enough bathroom facilities. I stayed at the First Baptist Church Activity Center and there was only one shower, which meant waits of 30-40 mins. Of course, there is always the shower truck, but I checked on it, there was a line of around 15 trying to huddle against the sun under a little easy-up tent and all descriptions were that the showers were saunas. With all that plus a quarter mile walk back to the church, not appealing. Based on that one negative, I was glad to put Dublin behind us.

Our group had a bit of trouble getting organized and started, but I’d say we were rolling at least by 07:30 if not a few minutes before.


The first rest stop and a few miles after were at a small lake, which was just beautiful and cool. After that, the miles just seemed to click by. We held a group of 5-6 together for most of the day until a flat broke us in half a few miles before the end.


The stop today is at East Georgia State College in Swainsboro and it is a gorgeous campus. They have a lot of land with a lot of green space between the buildings and big, beautiful pine trees. The indoor camping venue is in the gym, which is a very nice facility. The men’s locker room is a bit small, but having six showers and ample restrooms feels like a luxury compared to Dublin. I was able to get showered with no waiting and washed my kit while doing so. BTW, the cycling clothes are drying very quickly in this hot sun. A bunch of people went to a hotel in Dublin to do loads of laundry, but I’ve gotten by washing my kit in showers or sink and air drying in the A/C overnight or in the sun before it goes down. Not bad at all.


Dinner tonight was at a steak and seafood restaurant named Berni’s on West Main. A bit pricey, but very good food.

Tomorrow’s route should be similar to today’s at 53 miles and only 1748 feet of elevation gain. A few of us are thinking to get out early and ride it a little faster. TBH, I’d like to get to Georgia Southern University before all the choice spots are taken. More to come.

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BRAG Day 4

Today was a rest day in Dublin, GA with optional rides of 56 and 100 miles distance and 1500 and 2700 feet of climbing respectively. Steve Solomon and I were the only two from our group to choose to ride so we planned to set out at 06:00 to avoid much of the heat.

We had a bit of trouble finding the route start, but a cop and several people up near the gym told us where to go. We soon found a route marked with white paint and white turn signs even though all the previous day’s had been marked in orange.

After about 15 miles, I started worrying that we’d not seen a rest stop, but it wasn’t too concerning because the route markers were clear and we new we were ahead of the rest stop opening times. At 25 miles, we arrived at the location of one of the rest stops from the previous day, but nothing was there. But again, the route was clearly marked and we had arrived before the published opening time. We had also met two other cyclists on the road who had arrived at the same location independently.

At 38 miles, I was sure we had a problem so I got out my iPhone to compare our location with the published route only to find out we were 45 miles from where we should have been. The good news was that we were only 29 miles from Dublin as long as we took the most direct route.

Now, water wasn’t a problem since we had stopped at a couple churches to refill at their outside taps. But food was definitely a problem. During the past three days, rest stop 1 has come within the first 10-15 miles so I had gotten in the habit of eating light before the start. BIG MISTAKE! At around 25 miles, my stomach was definitely empty and by 38 I was starting to feel out of energy. But since we were choosing a route to Dublin on a big road with much traffic, we expected a few gas stations / convenience stores along the way. Wrong again. We didn’t find a store until 65 miles in and I was shaking by then. I put down some chocolate milk and a couple of candy bars and we spent about 20 minutes there recovering.

We rode into BRAG HQ shortly thereafter with 67 miles and I felt a bit downtrodden. I was bummed that we didn’t get the ride the century and had to watch other cyclists come in from the century all afternoon.

Most of our group was off doing laundry by the time we got back so Steve and got lunch, which was catered by Company Supply, socialized with other cyclists, and listened, halfheartedly, to the BRAG Jam. The two performers we heard were really not very good.


Showers, laundry, and other sundry chores later and the group went into the Dublin Theatre where they were showing free cult classic movies. We caught the second half of Raiders of the Lost Ark.


Dinner for the group was at Chupacabras, a small Mexican restaurant, and was very good. Well, the margaritas were just ok, but the food was excellent.

All in all, it was a good day even though I was disappointed I did not complete the century ride. Tomorrow should be an easy day with 51 very flat miles from Dublin to Swainsboro, GA.

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BRAG Day 3

Day 3 of BRAG was listed as 64 miles and a little over 2600 feet of climbing from Milledgeville, GA to Dublin, GA.


As you can see from the elevation profile, all the the hills were in the first half of the course. None of the climbs were particularly high in elevation, but some of them were several miles long.

We did. Have one scare early in the course. We were coming down a steep hill and there were several places where “Extreme Caution” was painted on the road right before some ugly potholes. Ok. It wasn’t hard to avoid those potholes, but what we didn’t know was that the bottom of the hill was loose gravel and terrible potholes for about 15 yards across the entire roadway. By the time I realized it, I was into the gravel and could not hit my brakes hard. I wasn’t coming way hot right behind a woman who had managed to slow more than me and she could here me bearing down so she ended up nearing going off the road to get out of my way. That incident scared everyone, but no one went down.


We stuck in a couple of groups for the first half of the ride and, once again, came apart near the end. Once we get near the end of the day, I start thinking about getting a good spot for the team in the indoor camping venue so I struck out hammering to get to the venue. I arrive quite a bit before any of the others and immediately claimed a large rectangle in the park gym. (Stubbs, Park in Dublin, GA.) I then started looking for mine and the others’ bags. Every day, a tractor trailer parks with the bags and someone had set them all out on the pavement outside the gym. Once I got about three bags in the gym, I heard rumor of another indoors camping venue at the First Baptist Church Activity Center. I tracked down the rumor with the organizers and then had a quarter mile hike with my heavy duffle to the second venue. After grabbing a spot for the team, I ran back down to bring the rest of the team up. By the time I got there, they were loaded up on a mule with a trailer and we shortly set up camp.

Team dinner was at a very good restaurant call Supply Company. I had a Cajun dish that was shrimp and blackened pork in a roux on cheese grits. Right up my alley.

Most of the team went to an outdoor viewing of Zootopia, but I was in bed by 9:30.

Not much to report yet again since the ride have been very well organized other than the gravel scare early in the route. More later from BRAG 2016.

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BRAG Day 2

I’m still blogging one day behind, but I hope to catch up this evening. Today’s route was listed as 69 miles with 2800 feet of climbing from Social Circle, GA to Milledgeville, GA. As you can see from the elevation, the first half of the route was easy.


We started as a group, the Alabama Chain Gang after a group photo in from the the BRAG bus.


I’m sure you’re wondering why my jersey is different and that is because I missed the deadline for the team jersey order. So, I purchased a jersey from the same manufacturer that looks similar. Day 2 was the first time to wear the team jerseys because Day 1 was college team jersey day. The jerseys were a huge hit as many people complemented us at rest stops and called out to us on the road.

We stayed together well as a team through the first 35 mins and then the heavens opened up and we fell apart. The second half of the route had almost all of the hills as well.

In Milledgeville, we were hosted by the Georgia Military College where they had three gyms open for indoor camping. The concession stand was open selling Chick Fil-A sandwiches and beer from the Red Brick Brewing Company, which is following us from town to town in a four-tap trailer. That was a nice time to meet and talk with other riders while having a good lunch and really good beer.

Our team went to dinner at The Brick in Milledgeville, which was close enough to walk. This place was also overwhelmed by BRAG, but the service was not as bad as the previous night and the food was really good. After dinner, half of us went off to find the one geocache in downtown and succeeded quickly.

More to come.

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