It was a beautiful morning. I parked and then rolled up to the flagpole at the start. I waited to meet my friend and former colleague, John Dockins. We met and were joined by another former colleague, Joe Berezo.
I saw a rider wearing a cancer ride jersey and went over and talked to him. Actually, there were two Florida riders who had ridden with Team Portland this summer. It was nice to say hello and they apprecieated someone knowing what their jerseys were from.
When we rolled out we started up a hill and John took off. I went with him and it would be the last we would see Joe. We found some riders and I told John we should avoid “putting our noses into the wind” for a while. I did. John didn’t. John was about 300-400 yards ahead of me but I never wanted to chase. I also knew I would be going into the red to catch him. I waited until Rest Stop 1.
We refueled and waited for Joe. After 15 minutes and not finding Joe, we decided it was time to roll out. And just like that, John was gone again. At one point I passed a rider I met yesterday who looked to be struggling. I turned around to see if I could shepherd her but couldn’t find her.
At Rest Stop #2 we met Robin from yesterday. “You look familiar,” she said before stating “It’s Barry from Virginia.” “I didn’t recognize you without your helmet.”
And it is true. You can ride all day with someone and you recognize them only on the bike, their bike, wearing their kit of the day. Robin had a different kit and was off her bike. And I was wearing the cookies as I had promised.
I enjoyed wearing the Cookie kit. One rider passed me and yelled out “Hi Phil!” Just as a friendly reminder there is a 50 pound weight differential between us and he was passing me. I am not Phil Gaimon although it was great one rider recognized the cookie kit. Or maybe three.
The big decision today was distance. Mostly the 70 mile and 100 mile routes were the same except at “decision time” one would need to add a 30-mile loop. Joe was going to ride 70 (or less). John doesn’t have many miles this year and was going to ride 70. John’s son, Matt, and his fiance’, Pauline, were riding 70. It seemed all the cool kids were riding 70. With a drive to Savannah today, I did not mind not riding 100.
We would make the turn towards home but not without Sugarloaf Mountain looming large. There were some walkers and some stopped. The climb is hard but nothing like Gibraltar Road, Mount Baldy, or Palomar Mountain, the latter two which are measured in hours and I rode three weeks ago. I was 30 seconds faster today than two years ago and I have no idea how.
The ride into the finish features one last pain-inducing climb followed by a nice descent. I missed the memo of a sprint finish and some riders went flying by. It’s a ride, not a race.
At lunch we met a rider from yesterday’s bakery ride with more insight on the crash. He said he was riding at the front and a rider braked to take a natural break. He was from Clermont and told us that the locals never ride those hills we rode today. We also saw Matt and Pauline and waited for Joe – only to learn he had cut his ride short to get back to Tampa.
Soon my friends dispersed and I was left alone. Sort of wished I would head back on course to get 100 miles but also knew I had a long drive ahead to Savannah.
Undecided which of the “familiarization” routes for the Horrible Hundred I would do today, I thought I was too late for the 8:30 a.m. 50-mile “Bakery Ride.” Although I arrived at 8:20 a.m. and somehow grabbed a primo parking spot just yards from the start, I also did not want to rush.
There would be a 35-mile ride at 8:45 and a 42-mile ride at 9:00 a.m. I called Joe Berezo who I knew was riding the 35-mile route. I thought I would jump in with him. The time was 8:33 a.m. so I assumed the group waiting was his. But then they pulled out. It did not take much encouragement from Joe to have me jump in the 50-mile ride. We would meet after our rides.
And off we went. I didn’t try to get an accurate count but would estimate there were 60 riders or more. I’m not of a fan of such a large group and write about that later.
We rode two and three abreast. Sometimes we were on country roads but for short stretches, we were also on main roads. On main roads, the shoulder was large enough for only one rider and the group seemed to stay one on the shoulder with one in the far right travel lane. I’m a bit fearful and stayed on the right shoulder.
Advertised with a 17-18 mph pace, it seemed we were often rolling along at 21-22 mph. But that data show we rolled through the first 20 miles at 17.4 mph so I guess the estimate was right.
Well, not really disaster. We were on Highway 19 which is a somewhat busy two-lane road with traffic. The group was rolling along, slightly downhill when someone touched their brakes. That sent a ripple through the peloton and two guys behind me touched wheels. The sound of a crash in unmistakable.
A number of us yelled “crash” but the group kept rolling. I stopped. We stopped. A rider was down. A car was stopped in the lane and it was unclear if the riders had been hit. We would learn that the riders went down in front of the driver. She almost hit them but did not but she was shaken up.
Everyone seemed to be a doctor, and maybe they were. I offered two things: First, two bikes were partially on the road. I removed them from the road and put them clearly in the grass. Thoughts of Jamie Roberts losing her life in Kentucky while standing at the edge of the road were enough to make me ensure that we were all safely off the road.
Second, I had them check his helmet. Sure enough, it was cracked. I suggested we call 911. No one did. Instead, they called for a friend to come pick him up. I think with a cracked helmet he needed to be evaluated by medical professionals. Thoughts of my own experience in Ohio on May 16 are still fresh with me.
Now down to half a group, minus one (or three as two riders stayed with him), we rode off towards the bakery. I thought with half a group it was a more sensible pace. The data show that the next eight miles we averaged 18.1 mph. Shows you what I know or how off my perception is.
The bakery is a nice stop. I did not buy anything so I cannot be a food critic. And then we rolled home.
I had met two riders, Evelyn and Robyn (Robin?). Evelyn had noticed my socks, “Hillclimb Worlds” and thought that was the coolest thing. Or a joke. I told her they were real and I finished DFL. Not so sure she thinks it was so cool now.
We came to three rollers. The first was preceded by a nice downhill and we were all touching our brakes – before a climb. On the first climb, I rolled up with the peloton. But then I gave them 50 meters. I did not want to roll down the next hill touching my brakes. And that worked. At the end of the three we waited 4-5 minutes for some who had been dropped.
Once we rolled out I stayed with Evelyn and Robyn. I didn’t have to worry about braking in the group and Evelyn took us a different way back onto one of the trails which was thoroughly enjoyable.
They said goodbye and “see you tomorrow” although I doubt in the thousands (or hundreds) that show up I will see them again. I met Joe and we had an enjoyable lunch at Zaxby’s – important because we’re riding different routes tomorrow.
And now my thoughts on the ride:
Our group was too large. I don’t know if they had ride leaders enough to split it but two groups of 30 or three groups of 20 would have been much better. The second group could have left five minutes after the first group. And the second group 10 minutes later.
While most who jumped in the “A” ride are decent bike handlers, we are not professionals. With 60+ riders in the peloton there was too much yo-yo-ing in the group. Even on a flat road at 21-22 mph, there were riders touching their brakes. One woman yelled out “would you all quit braking!” (She would later crash, not from braking but from her chain coming off while she was going uphill.)
IMHO, it was the size of the group which led to someone touching their brakes while we were rolling along and the ripple effect caused the two riders to crash – one was badly hurt. When we rode as a small group to the bakery this wasn’t happening.
Second, the size of the group exposed us all to frustrated, impatient, and even pissed-off drivers. On more than one occasion a truck (it was always a pickup truck – the reader can draw their own conclusions) passed a very long line of cyclists crossing the double yellow lines. On one occasion the truck was going extremely fast while an oncoming car seemed willing to play “chicken” with the truck. With riders two abreast, and there was no shoulder here, he sped up even faster to get past the front of the group and cut back with less than a second before a collision.
A long, stretched-out peloton, like we had today, is hard for a motorist to pass. But they will try. And if you are thinking riders should ride single file, if there is no shoulder they will be in a travel lane and single file is twice as long as two-abreast. Most motorists underestimate how fast cyclists are traveling. A group traveling at 21-22 mph takes much longer to pass than drivers estimate. Of course, they don’t realize this until they are in the opposite lane facing a car coming at them.
I LOVE this ride. The familiarization rides on Saturday are great. But there were times today I felt my safety was in danger just because of the size of our group. And I think it was a contributing cause to the accident today.
EDIT/EPILOGUE – NOVEMBER 18 – At lunch, I met a rider who was up front in the peloton. He said the chain-reaction crash was caused by a rider who decided he had to take a nature break so he hit his brakes and pulled over. Wow. This differs from what Robin heard – that someone had a mechanical although I will say I did not see anyone repairing their bike while we waited with the injured rider.
This was an accidental stay. I intended to stay around St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. When snow hit yesterday morning, I jumped in the car and drove. On my way, I was looking for hotels near St. Simon’s and found this – which must have been close only in air miles. So I drove to Florida.
Excited to ride, I woke up and it was cold. It was the same temperature that I left behind in Washington, D.C. – 41°F (5°C)
I dressed for a ride like, well, like I was at home. One difference was it would to get up to 60° in Florida while it was only to get up to 50° at home. Plus there was no snow on the road here.
I left the hotel completely upside-down. North was South and South was North from someone who usually has an impeccable sense of direction. The hotel was located on the Amelia River which was west and sure looked like the Atlantic Ocean if you squinted real hard. Real hard.
Fernandina Beach has a very pretty old town component to it on Amelia Island. That is where the hotel was located. I started by exploring some of the streets before really riding.
I thought I was headed north while going south. Eventually, I straightened myself out and knew I was headed south to the end of the island. I started up on the causeway but decided that was also a good turning around point.
Traffic in this section was a bit faster than I wanted and I wasn’t sure how much time I had to spend here.
I found the ocean and the nice folks at the bike shop gave me directions. But I just sort of wandered around exploring.
I hit some major streets that I would avoid if I rode here again. But disappointment that I didn’t do better navigating. If there is a next time, I will do it better, if not right. A quick shower and I was off to meet my cousin, Brad Lawmaster, in Lake Mary, Florida.