As mentioned in my 13 May blog entry — the one just before this — and in my weekly journal on 21 May over at Riding Two Up, this past weekend was all about heading off to the 20th edition of The Georgia Tandem Rally in Athens, Georgia.
We were in countdown mode for the past two and half weeks only because we were out of practice when it comes to getting ready for tandem rallies. We attended just two in 2017: the 19th edition of The Georgia Tandem Rally in Valdosta, Georgia, during mid-May and the Tandems East “Tour de Chocolate” in Manheim, PA, in mid-July.
2017 Rally in the Valley Pre-Ride Photo
Moreover, unlike the prior five years, we didn’t take the triplet to The Georgia Tandem Rally as our “tail gunner” Lisa D. was attending her daughter, Anna’s, graduation from college over that weekend. We made up for it by taking a special trip up to Walhalla, South Carolina at the end of May with the triplet where Lisa D. hosted us at her home on Friday night ahead of The Rally in the Valley, a one day fund-raiser ride.
Normally we’d attend the Southern Tandem Rally in October and also ride that with Lisa on the triplet, but couldn’t find a way to fit STR 2017 at Salisbury, North Carolina, into our June calendar. So, the sum total of our triplet outings in 2017 was one: The Rally in the Valley.
Therefore, as GTR 2018 approached it had been 12 months since we’d ridden the triplet and 10 months since we’d gone off for a multi-day cycling event. When we were doing four and five tandem rallies every year packing up our gear and getting the triplet and tandem ready to go — because you never know when you might have one of the two stoker’s needing to sit out for a day — was pretty much intuitive, if not something I did by rote. However, not-so after that long break. The reason I mention this will become clear in my Friday entry. And with that, here’s the run down on our 2018 GTR experience.
Spoiler Alert: we had a great time!
The only real concern we had with our upcoming trip to Athens, Georgia on Thursday afternoon was getting our truck back from the shop in time as it was the only vehicle we have that can carry the 10-foot long bicycle. I’d dropped it over for routine service on Friday and while doing that service they discovered an issue that pushed the vehicle’s return to us out until Tuesday. If they ran into any more problems with what was a warranty issue on a prior rear wheel seal replacement, we’d have only one day of margin before we had to figure out an alternative transportation plan, i.e., renting a Honda Odyssey or similar vehicle into which we could stuff the very-long, three-seat bicycle.
I’d gotten our triplet down from the garage ceiling storage hooks on Monday night while the middle bay was empty and had it pretty much ready to go. There’s really not a lot involved in getting the triplet ready other than installing the quick release wheels, moving Debbie’s saddle over from our Calfee tandem and putting a set of Speedplay Frog pedals on the front crank arms, borrowed from our mountain tandem. The rest of the saddles and pedals stay on the triplet. A few test rides confirmed the shifting was still dialed-in nicely so we’d have a relatively problem-free weekend of riding, noting you do A LOT of shifting on a big bike like this to keep the pedal cadence consistent.
Thankfully, the call to come and pick up our truck came on Tuesday afternoon; at least that was no longer a concern. I’d be able to pack all of our gear and tandem in the truck on Wednesday night and then load the triplet up on the roof just before heading off to Athens on Thursday afternoon.
Wednesday evening was all about getting our cycling apparel packed for the three-days of riding, putting the tandem in the truck along with my tool box, spare parts bag and a few other things that would allow me to deal with most any mechanical issue that I or friends might have during the three-day event. Given the horrible weather outlook for the three days we’d be riding, I decided I’d do well by installing mud guards on the triplet so if it did rain while we were riding we’d be spared the extra dousing from water thrown up by the tires: it’s often times worse than just the rain falling from the sky!
Of course, as bad as the weather was, my bigger concern was now a likely case of Bronchitis I’d developed as a result of last week’s explosion in grass pollens. Both Debbie and I began to get scratchy throats on Tuesday and it had now moved down into my lungs, bringing with it coughing spells, labored breathing and the production of that lovely, orange-colored crud that comes up with deep coughs. Uggg.
Thursday – Day One of GTR
My goal when I headed to work at 5:30am was to leave by noon. Per Murphy’s Law, I was slammed all morning and before I knew it I was still hard at work as the hands of the clock moved past 12:00pm. I was able to finish up and head for the door by 12:15 and, after a quick stop to gas up the truck, I was home shortly before 1:00pm. After a quick change of clothes I put the triplet up on the roof of the truck, loaded up our last few bags and by 1:20pm we were off. Well, sort of. I had to run back to the house for my hat: gotta have my hat if I’m going to be in the sun walking around and God willing, we’d have some sun while we were in Athens, weather forecasters be damned!
The drive to Athens was fairly uneventful, notwithstanding heavier traffic than I would have expected on a Thursday early afternoon on the four-lane GA 316 highway that connects Atlanta to Athens. Once we arrived at the Athens Holiday Inn it didn’t take long to get checked and all of our luggage moved up to our room on the 6th floor of Tower #1. Most of the tandem rally folks we were running into when we arrived had participated in the GTR pre-tour that Roger & Eve had hosted in nearby Covington, Georgia on Monday through Wednesday. Even still, there was plenty of room in the bike storage room for our triplet, which was a welcome thing. In prior years I’d found myself loading the triplet back on top of our truck each day and that’s a bit of a pain in the you know what!
We socialized a bit with friends at the hotel and found our tailgunner for the rally, Lisa D, down in the main lobby area along with Denny and Stephanie, who have become part of our regular riding entourage at GTR each year. We wandered over to the Creature Comforts Brewery located a few blocks from the hotel where registration was being held in the midst of happy hour. Athens has become a hot bed for craft beer brewing and this was apparently one of the more recently established labels. While I’m not a big beer drinker, our hosts and a lot of the folks who are tandem cycling enthusiasts also seem to be craft beer enthusiasts, so it’s become commonplace to find a lot of the GTR social events being hosted at small micro-breweries or bars that specialize in serving craft beers and/or wines.
From Creature Comforts we went in search of food. My suggestion for dinner was The Last Resort, one of the best restaurants in Athens. We were introduced to it when GTR first visited Athens, Georgia, back in 2001 by our well-travelled friends Rich & Ina Thompson. We were not disappointed. Debbie and I split a nice Caesar salad and the caramelized scallops, which was just what we needed. Lisa D and Denny & Stephanie were our dining companions for the evening.
From dinner, we headed back to the hotel and made an early evening of it. I wasn’t feeling all that well and was fading.
I didn’t sleep much, kept awake by a nagging cough as my lungs tried to expel the crud that was collecting in my bronchias; yup, I definitely had a mild case of Brochitis so that wasn’t good. However, we came to ride so ride we would! We wandered down to breakfast around 7:15am, which was plenty of time given the riders meeting wasn’t until 8:30am. After breakfast I pulled the triplet out of the storage room and had it outside and nearly ready to go: it just needed to have the three Garmin computers attached, some water bottles and three riders. Or, so I thought.
Back up in the room as Debbie and I got dressed for the ride I made a terrifying discovery: I’d packed the wrong cycling shoes! Yup, sure enough I’d grabbed the shoes I wear on my single road bike which have a very rigid, slick sole and a large base plate that mounts to a clip-in pedal system which is completely incompatible with the mountain bike pedals and shoes I wear on the tandem. As to how I grabbed the wrong pair of shoes, well… with as many black Sidi cycling shoes as there were sitting in the rack, and not having taken a moment to flip them over to be sure, there’s always a risk of getting it wrong, and boy did I get it wrong.
I thought I might actually have a spare set of racing pedals in my tool boxes, but alas… those were the only kind of pedals that I didn’t have. Seeing Ric from House of Tandems walking through the parking lot I asked him if he happened to have any spare pedals that might be compatible with a set of Campy Ergo / Look cleats. ‘Old style or new” he asked: sadly, old… Not good.
Having pulled the cleats off of my road shoes, I confirmed the pre-drilled sole did not have the right hole pattern for the two other types of cleats and pedals systems that I had parts for. However, I was pretty sure I could use my cordless drill to add the holes I needed and could farm-boy engineer a way to attach the mountain bike cleats to my road biking shoes. Thankfully, as I was digging my drill out Ric walked up and handed me a set of gently-used Shimano 105 SPD-SL pedals and a new set of SPD-SL three-bolt cleats that were fully compatible with my shoes! What a lifesaver!
It didn’t take me long to swap out the pedals on the bike and cleats from my shoes, such that we were able to mount up and arrive at the 8:30am riders meeting just as it began in the adjacent parking lot of our hotel.
Our original plan was to ride the 48-mile route with 2,500′ of climbing. However, based on how I was feeling we opted to change our plans mid-ride and rode the 37-mile route with just 2,000′ of climbing. Bear in mind, our longest ride of the year had been the 25-mile loops we ride from our home. And, remembering we hadn’t attended a rally since July of 2017, that was probably the last time we’d ridden 40+ miles in a single ride. So, not a lot of endurance base miles coupled with me hacking up crud suggested the shorter route on the first day was the prudent choice.
The route was a familiar one, as this was the fifth visit to Athens by GTR during its 20 year history. Like all rides from Athens, the first several miles are deceptively easy since Athens sits on something of a plateau. That exhilarating departure through the very urban area is off-set by the climb back into town at the end of the ride. However, once outside of Athens proper, the ebb and tide of the hills through the rural communities around Athens provide some of the best riding you can find in North Georgia. It’s hilly, but not too hilly, at least to our tastes. I’m sure our friends from Florida might have a different take.
Regardless, even though I was tired afterwards, it was a great ride. Debbie, who was also tired, agreed. Now, I will confess we did get rained on for what was probably 5-10 minutes during the last 1/3rd of the ride. It was a steady rain, but not a deluge which made it very manageable, especially since we had the mud guards on the triplet which spared us from the typical secondary dousing that comes off the road when you don’t have mud guards! And, best of all, that was the only real rain that fell on us during our three rides on GTR.
Once we were back at the hotel, the first order of business was getting the triplet put back in the storage room, showering and heading out to find some lunch: we definitely earned a good meal! Our same trio from Thursday night — Lisa, Denny & Stephanie and us — got a recommendation or two and opted to give the Trappeze Pub a try: we were not disappointed. Debbie and I split a nice salad and a pair of fish taco’s. It was just what we needed. But, I will say I was a pretty worn-out puppy… as you can see by the staged photo: Debbie’s laughing gave it away: yeah, I was faking. The camera was in my left hand. But, really… I was beat!
We all went our separate ways after lunch, as I needed to grab some cash from the Wells Fargo ATM. That gave us a chance to wander by several blocks worth of store fronts in downtown Athens and I will say, the overall impression I had was lack-luster. Lots of empty real estate, recently closed-up businesses and not exactly a neat and tidy look even in front of the stores on the main drag. On the bright side, Debbie saw a denim skirt in the window of Fab ‘Rik that looked like it was what she’d spent years searching for… Yes, there would be a return trip.
Once we were back at the hotel I spent a few minutes visiting with Ric and Marcia, which I guess I always do after every ride and just about any time I’m passing the hospitality suite where they set-up shop. To their credit and my amazement, Ric & Marcia spend all three days of these tandem rallies fixing the things that people need fixed on their tandems, but don’t have the ability to fix themselves or have local bike shops that can or will work on tandems.
I kidded our friend Rick B. who had his tandem in the workstand with Ric when I walked in that it seemed like he always had his tandem in Ric’s rack at GTR! Turns out, Rick and Debbie had a newer tandem with just a double chainring set-up vs. triple and their Florida gearing was just a bit too tall for the hills around Athens. My timing was pretty good in that Ric needed a chain-whip to remove Rick B’s cassette from his rear wheel and I just happened to have one in my tool box. So, good that I stopped in and pestered Rick B. in a twisted-fate kind of way.
After visiting with Ric & Marcia and returning to our hotel room, I put on my suit and head down to the pool to relax for about an hour in the sunshine… yes, we had blue skies and sun! I’m not sure I fell asleep but I sure did find it relaxing. About the time I got back to our hotel room Debbie was getting ready for the 4:30pm social mixer at the Blue Sky Lounge. As with all of the event venues, they were within fairly easy walking distance of the hotel.
As much as we wanted to make a return trip to Trappeze for dinner, the weather finally intervened to change our plans and landed us in the Taco Stand, which shared a street entrance with the Blue Sky Lounge. In retrospect, we should have either more carefully considered our meal choice or just waited for the rain to stop instead of having deep-friend fish taco’s and burrito’s: ugg. It just was way the heck off of our eating plan and didn’t set well. Oh well, live and learn.
We made a bee-line to the hotel after dinner and skipped the “make your own Apple Pie” dessert social in the hopes that I might be able to get some much-needed sleep, remembering that I was still dealing with that mild case of Bronchitis,
Well, Saturday morning was a good news / bad news kind of morning. The good news was I was able to get about 8 hours of sleep which is a lot for me. Sadly, Debbie wasn’t able to sleep much at all and, well, I still woke up coughing up bits and pieces of my lungs. But, at least I didn’t have to deal with a mini-crisis like Friday’s wrong shoe debacle! We headed down to breakfast and slowly but surely got our act together such that we’d be ready to ride.
Unlike Friday, there wasn’t a lot of fuzz on the ball with regard to what route we’d be riding: 44 miles would be just fine, thank you very much. And, thankfully, that’s what our friends had in mind.
As with Friday’s ride, Saturday’s route was also very familiar from the previous three visits to Athens. And, again, just fantastic riding on very rural roads with light traffic and motorists who were tolerant and respectful of our presence.
We were actually feeling pretty good on this ride, better than Friday. We were still way off our riding form from years gone by, but Debbie was very encouraged to find that we did quite well on the hills while riding the triplet with Lisa. Debbie had always been afraid that we’d really struggle on hilly terrain with the 3-seater and she didn’t want to burden Lisa with having to “push us up the hills” but that didn’t seem to be the case. We climbed just a few ticks off the pace that we’d been climbing on our tandem back at home, so that was reassuring… and this is while Lisa and Debbie were still carrying on a conversation. Yeah, well… that’s a subject for another blog entry.
After yet another great day in the saddle without rain on a day when the forecast called for 90% chance of Thundershowers, we were back at the hotel and in good shape. Although we weren’t right with most of our friends, all of us arrived back at the hotel within a 5 minutes of each other. After grabbing a quick shower, we met everyone back in the hotel’s main floor and headed on foot to the post-ride lunch at Saucehouse BBQ, about 1/2 a mile from the hotel. I will say, that was probably the 2nd best lunch at GTR, with the first being a white linen country club buffet down in Americus, Georgia. The food choices allowed a lot of tailoring for diet, as Debbie and I pretty much stuck to the wonderful spring mixed salad with nuts, berries and cheese and the pulled pork. The ambiance was wonderful, with nice music playing, all kinds of seating options, a full bar at our disposal and of course lots of tandem cyclists. Debbie and I gravitated to the breezeway, as we’re kind of partial to those and were missing our alone time on our own breezeway by this time as well. We really are home-bodies, when push comes to shove.
After lunch, Debbie and I walked back towards town and made a short detour back to the Fab ‘Rik store so Debbie could try on the denim skirt we saw in the window on Friday. Yup, it was exactly what she’d been looking for and it was a cute as could be. With our purchase in hand, we wandered back to the hotel and Debbie joined me for yet another hour sitting by the pool and resting our eyes on a lovely, sunny afternoon. Again, we couldn’t have asked for better weather! If it had been anything less than partly to mostly cloudy the heat would have gotten the better of us. But, with the party cloudy skies, the temperature was just fine as was the humidity.
After relaxing at the pool we headed up to the room and got ready for a pre-dinner cocktail party at Allgood’s and then dinner in the great atrium of the Georgia Classic Center: wow, what a spectacular space that was! And the meal was equally delicious. While we always expect a spectacular banquet at GTR, what we didn’t expect was a special presentation by Roger & Eve. Given this was the 20th Georgia Tandem Rally and given that there were just six remaining “GTR Originals” — which is to say, three couples who have attended all 20 GTRs, including the co-directors and hosts, Roger & Eve — they honored Al & Heidi as well as Debbie and me with two customized photo albums that chronicled all 20 years of GTR with photos that just happened to include us! We were left speechless and deeply humbled by their amazing consideration and thoughtfulness. I guess that’s part of the reason GTR is the only rally we’ve attended religiously for the past 20 years!
Photo by Elliott Strauss
I should note, all of these events really gave us a lot of time to mix and mingle with many of our old friends whom we don’t get to see that often, as well as to connect with either folks we’ve only come to know via the Internet or by reputation: that’s also a very big part of GTR’s attraction and staying power.
Following dinner, we opted to pass on stopping at The Boar’s Head Lounge — one of Athens’ top dive bars — and headed on back to the hotel so we could try to get caught up on our sleep. Or, more to the point, to put Debbie to bed: she was really tired, not having slept on Friday night.
All-in-all, it was a great day!
Unlike a lot of Sunday’s when we’ll skip the 3rd day of riding and head home early, we decided early-on that we’d ride all three days with Lisa D., so long as the weather held out. And, Sunday was almost a carbon copy of Saturday and Friday… so Sunday’s ride was a Go.
Almost the opposite of Saturday morning, Debbie had slept quite well last night whereas I had been up since around 1:30am. Between my coughing and just not being tired after getting 4 hours of sleep from 9:30pm until 1:30am, I ended up tossing and turning for the balance of the night, trying to find just the right way to lay without causing the fluid in my lungs to settle where it generated a coughing spasm.
We made it to breakfast and were out at the bikes and ready to ride by 8:30am, but just as on Saturday morning we missed the pre-ride photo-shoot. As you can see from the photo below taken on Saturday morning by Eve, 100 tandems = 200+ people and that’s a pretty good-sized crowd to manage. Again, how Roger & Eve have done these events for 20 years is just amazing.
Photo by Eve Kofsky
Anyway, today’s ride would be just 26-miles long for us, as we needed to be back by 10:30am so we could be cleared out of our room by 11:00am, noting we neglected to request a late check-out when we booked our room and/or when we checked-in.
However, 26-miles was also just about what we had left in our legs and butts, as we just didn’t have the base miles to do the longer routes, never mind doing them at a proper clip vs. slugging along at an average of 16.5 mph as we’d been doing most of the weekend.
We felt good as we pedaled out of the parking lot and, rather than trying to over-correct our speed to ride with a larger group, we opted to simply ride tempo for the morning ride instead of trying to match speed with other tandems. Again, the goal for today was to get in the short 26-mile ride and still be back in time to shower and check-out before 11:00am.
Photo by Eve Kofsky
Riding tempo put us in no-man’s land for a portion of the ride, but we did roll up alongside Jeff & Joyce S. for a while (always a pleasure to be with) and somehow “caught up” to a group with our GTR hosts, Roger & Eve, and their entourage even though they left after us and never rode past us: we’re guessing they knew of a shortcut! We rode with them briefly, but the steady 1% grade, three days of riding and my Bronchitis was taking a toll on me, so we drifted back a bit and followed them into the lone store stop at 19 miles. Debbie and I shared a Gatorade – something we need to drink more often vs. just water – and then mounted up and headed off so we could knock out the final 7 miles and get back to the hotel for check-out at 11:00am.
We rolled into the hotel parking lot just before 10:30, about what we expected for the hilly, 26-mile route plus store stop. I dropped Debbie and Lisa off at the hotel’s rear portico, so they could return to their rooms and begin to get cleaned up while I loaded the triplet back on top of our truck for the drive home. Our friends Ric and Marcia were busy loading their van and trailer for the 13-hour drive back to “House of Tandems Central” north of Houston, Texas, as headed to the hotel which gave me an opportunity to return the Shimano 105 SPD-SL pedals they so graciously loaned me for the weekend and to thank them for everything they do: there will be more on that in a separate blog entry. I also had a chance to say goodbye to our friends Eric & Linda who we didn’t see a whole lot of aside from being together for most of Saturday’s ride: so many friends, so little time.
We thought about hanging around and meeting up with some of our tandem friends and family for lunch but decided what we really needed to do was to get back home where we could spend the afternoon catching up on yard work and the like during one of the dry-spells. Thankfully, this will all change a bit when I retire at the end of June, but at least for the next 31 calendar day I’m still in weekend-warrior mode without the option of deferring “weekend chores” to the mid-week days.
After grabbing a shower and doing the pack-mule thing to haul all our bags down to the truck, we spent a few minutes saying our goodbyes to other friend who were likewise beginning to congregate in the parking lot as they got ready to head for home or their next destinations. Our friend Laura noted that her husband Duncan and I were both looking pretty Aussie with our shorts and outback hats and felt that needed to be caught with a camera for posterity: not a bad photo! We finished up saying our goodbyes to Denny & Stephanie and Lisa, Laura & Duncan and a slew of others and then pointed the truck west for the 2-hour drive home.
We made a slight detour and stopped at Loco Willy’s for lunch, as Miss Debbie was craving a “Willenburger” with its plentiful supply of iron. It hit the spot and we even had a chance to see our friend and Loco Willy himself, Charles… who we hadn’t seen in several months. It was a short 20-minute drive home from Loco’s where, upon pulling in the driveway, the weekend of fun and games came to a quick finale.
As expected, the front Bermuda grass in the front lawn had gone to seed and needed to be “harvested” pronto. First things first, I unloaded our luggage and put it in the house, pulled the tandem out of the bed and then go the triplet down from the top of the truck. They’d both go into the garage along with of the bike tools and various equipment bags and sit until Monday. Again, the immediate task at hand was cutting the front & back lawn which, given the heat and humidity, would pretty much drain most of my remaining energy: yup, it did.
We finished off our Sunday relaxing at home and eating dinner in. It was much-needed rest. As for the evening, I spent it sifting through photos and creating a rough outline of the blog while contemplating a good-night’s rest in our own bed…. Right up and until the coughing settled-in. Oh well, I’d hoped I’d have left it in Athens but no, the Bronchitis followed me home.
By mid-afternoon on Monday I had the tandem rally put well behind us. Debbie was busy washing cycling clothes while I put all of my tools and gear from the trip back in its proper place and then washed and hung the triplet up and out of the way until October, when it will once again be called upon to carry our trio at the Southern Tandem Rally in Venice, Florida.
A huge thank you to Roger & Eve for putting on another 1st class tandem cycling event. How they do what usually takes a team of volunteers to pull off is amazing. I’d say they really should get a hobby, but I think this is their hobby!