Given how tandem rallies have been restructured around folks who are no longer part of the 9-5 working world, we now feel compelled to travel on Thursday nights and pick up the cost of an additional day’s lodging so we can be on hand to make the Friday morning mass start at 8:30am. In the old days we’d travel on Friday mornings and arrive in time for an afternoon “warm-up ride” ahead of a two-day tandem rally which we really enjoyed.
Be that as it may, the drive up to Cookeville, Tennessee, was about 3 hours and because traffic around Atlanta remains a mess until 6:30pm or 7:00pm, we had just enough time to get home from work on Thursday, throw our bags in the truck and then head north such that we’d arrive before 11:00pm. It was a relatively easy drive up I75 to I24 around Chattanooga and then north on Route 27 to Route 111. We arrived at the Country Suites in Cookeville, TN, around 10:30pm. Well, I say 10:30pm. Turns out, Cookeville is on Central Time so it really was only 9:30pm, not that you could tell by the empty lobby.
It wasn’t until Friday morning that I realized we were on Central Time: we’d gone to bed assuming we were on Eastern Time only to discover when we headed down to the near empty breakfast area at what we assumed was 6:45am and realized it was actually 5:45am. Oh well… better early than late.
As others joined us it was good to see friends, many of whom we’d not seen in a while as we only attend one or two tandem rallies a year, whereas in years past we’d go to about five. Much to our surprise, we also found our dear friends Brenda & James on hand at the rally… a couple whom we would almost always ride with at every rally but who haven’t been able to attend any rallies for several years. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy all of our other tandem friends but Brenda & James were our partners in crime and riding companions at well over 20 tandem rallies. We had missed them dearly so it was a real treat to get time with them both on and off the tandem.
We opted to do the 44 mile “medium” distance for Friday’s ride as our base miles and riding tempo were well off the mark from what we’d need to suck wheels behind the A Teams at the rally. In fact, we were curious if we’d even be able to hang with the B Teams. Our initial riding group included Brenda & James (Murfreesboro, TN), Eric, Linda & Lisa (Atlanta, GA & Clemson, SC) on Lisa’s triplet, Denny & Stephanie (Chattanooga, TN) and Ryan & Christian (Richmond, VA). We maintained a nice pace over the ample hills that we encountered along the route and made a point of staying with Brenda & James as no one wants to be at a tandem rally with 72 other teams and find themselves riding alone. The weather was nearly perfect, with temps in the high 70’s to low 80’s, low humidity and lots of sunshine. After an amazing decent where Miss Debbie urged restraint on my part we came to a collection of other tandem teams that had taken a break on what appeared to be a fairly rough side road.
Little did we realize this was the road we’d be on for the next several miles! After a nice break and after adding several more tandems to our group we made our way around the valley and began a gradual climb that suddenly became far less than gradual in a very short time (see below for the “bathtub” effect of the descent and subsequent climb).
Our long-time friends from Atlanta, Roger & Eve, helped pace us up the climb such that we finished on the bike instead of on foot as a lot of teams were forced to do. As much as we cuss and fuss during those climbs, there’s always a pretty good sense of accomplishment once you get to the top!
The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful for us, although our friends Roger & Eve developed some type of an issue with their Spinergy rear wheel that consumed their afternoon and patience with a local bike shop that probably had no business trying to work on a high-end specialty wheel with which they had no experience. Our only “mechanical” was a persistent clicking sound that was coming from the rear bottom bracket that I dealt with after our ride.
Lunch was an on-your-own affair and acting on a recommendation from the fantastic Country Suites Inn staff, we headed to Father Tom’s in downtown Cookeville for lunch. Let’s just say we found the Cookeville equivalent of Loco Willy’s, sans any TVs. It was a pub with amazing food, a loyal and attentive staff and just the right vibe. Debbie and I split their version of a Reuben (the Neuben) and the house salad, which was equally amazing. Looking up and down the table there wasn’t a meal that didn’t look wonderful or that wasn’t enjoyed immensely.
After visiting the local bike shop across the street from Father Toms we headed back to the hotel to relax and clean up a bit: it was already well into the middle of the afternoon. Dinner that evening was also “own your own” and you know exactly where we went: Father Tom’s! We split “The Jack” which was described on the menu as a deconstructed shepherd’s pie with thinly sliced tenderloin topped by pea encrusted mashed potatoes and an au jus that was out of this world with the same delicious side salad from lunch. Denny & Stephanie joined us as we were finishing our meal and had the same thing: yummy stuff! In fact, we were tempted to skip the ice cream social at a nearby shop and have Father Tom’s raspberry brownie with ice cream and a raspberry topping.
The ice cream social was a nice affair but after leaving we and several friends headed back to Father Tom’s yet again for a night cap before calling it a night and returning to the hotel. I should note that throughout the day we were doing our best to keep tabs on the many friends we have who live along the Eastern coast of Florida, in places like St. Augustine, Jacksonville, and further North in the Carolinas. Thankfully, I don’t believe any of them suffered any catastrophic damage as a result of the storm, but a full accounting is still needed to be certain.
On the bright side, at least we knew what time it really was when we woke up on Saturday morning. Breakfast was pretty much the same as the day prior and before we knew it we were outside getting ready for our ride where the weather was nothing like the day prior. Instead of a warm sunny morning we had temps in the upper 60’s with a blustery wind and overcast skies as we headed out on the medium length 57-mile route with pretty much the same group from Friday, plus a few others such as Greg & Angela from Tallahassee, FL.
Early into the ride I made the mistake of stopping to help someone with a problem of unknown type and quickly realized there wasn’t much I could do as their chain and drivetrain were woefully in need of cleaning and lubrication. The chain had a very stiff link and there was no real way to fix it out on the road without having a few more tools and cleaning supplies. I did my best to apply some lubricant that they had on hand and to work the stiff section of chain back-and-forth in an effort to loosen it up but it didn’t look promising. I suggested that they might be able to ride the stiffness out now that it was loosened up a bit but without a chain tool and degreaser it would be hard to get working correctly. Honestly, I felt awful leaving them still on the side of the road after being of little assistance but we needed to get back to our own ride. I believe I heard later that they did, in fact, have to get sagged-in.
We found our friends a short distance up the road a piece who graciously waited for us at a church who quickly rejoined us as we passed. We had a good ride out to lunch, again with many hills and a stiff wind often times hitting us in the face but mostly at our backs. While the tail wind was appreciated in the morning, we were not looking forward to the ride back into that same wind later after having lunch.
Speaking of lunch, it was hosted in a church near downtown Sparta, TN, and the meal was actually quite good. We enjoyed our time at lunch sitting with Jim & Sonja from the Pittsburg area who also had a winter home near Daytona Beach who would be headed down to Florida after the tandem rally to check on their property, knowing there’d be some down trees, etc.
We opted not to wander around Sparta while some of our friends did, so the morning group was now reduced to just four couples: us plus Roger & Eve, Denny & Stephanie & Greg & Angela. Eric, Linda & Lisa along with Brenda & James and Ryan & Christian took advantage of the annual Lester Flatt Celebration in Sparta where they had a Lester Flatt tribute band (Sparta was his home) and other goings on….
The ride back to Cookeville was as expected: hilly and into a stiff headwind for nearly all of the 20 mile journey: that would be the right 1/3d of the image below. We’d spent most of the morning pulling our friends and started out doing the same coming out of Sparta. However, Denny & Stephanie took the lead for the last 15 miles and we eventually began to leave Greg & Angela behind. Debbie and I opted to let Denny & Stephanie and Roger & Eve go off the front and we paired up with Greg & Angela so they didn’t end up in no man’s land facing the hills and stiff headwinds alone.
After getting back to the hotel and cleaned-up Debbie and I headed off to a nearby Buffalo Wild Wings to see if we could find a seat at the bar and watch the college games. We lucked out and had a wonderful afternoon with Zakysha, a lovely gal from Atlanta! We snacked on some soft pretzels as well as some spinach and artichoke dip to see if we couldn’t get our sodium levels back up to snuff! BTW, if you ever wondered why everyone working at Buffalo’s wear’s a jersey with the number 82, that’s the year Buffalo’s first store opened.
As much as we wanted to just stay and have dinner at the bar, we pulled ourselves away and headed back to downtown Cookeville where the ubiquitous Saturday evening banquet was being held about 50 yards from Father Tom’s: yet another temptation. We arrived just as the social hour ended and found seats at a table with Lisa, Brenda & James and our friends Larry & Martha also from Murfreesboro, TN.
I probably need to send out apology cards to our friends as I was quite restless and in a strange mood when we arrived. Adding to my woes, our table somehow ended up being the last one called to go through the buffet line. While I wasn’t all that hungry, after waiting for Debbie and our other table mates to reach the buffet line I joined them and confirmed what I suspected: the featured item of the buffet had been fully consumed and our friends were left with chicken over pasta as their only choice. Debbie had some of the pasta with a marinara sauce and I passed as I had no real appetite anyway.
Again, being all out of sorts at that point, I invited Debbie to leave before the announcements began as I as I still in a strange mood and not exactly adding to the enjoyment of the evening for our table mates, something I remain upset with myself about. I say this because I vividly remember finding myself being out of sorts at STR in Cullman, Alabama, where we also left the rally banquet early and headed to a local sports bar to watch college football. Rallies are supposed to be places that provide you with a lift, relaxation and an opportunity to share good times with friends. I get the lift, but for some reason it doesn’t last, I never really feel relaxed and that, in turn, makes me someone I wouldn’t want to be around: perhaps I need an intervention.
While our friends probably assumed we went back to Father Tom’s for dinner after making our exit from the banquet hall, we instead returned to the hotel, checked out and headed for home. Now, I should note that we’d already advised our friends we wouldn’t be riding on Sunday as Debbie’s backside was a bit sore and chaffed from Friday & Saturday’s ride. So, at this point, spending the night just to wake up and then face a four hour (three hours + time zone change) back to Atlanta where we’d have a full day of chores waiting for us didn’t seem as attractive as an option of heading home at 8:00pm and arriving shortly before midnight so we could sleep in our own beds.
We also had a bit of a surprise when I stopped for gas near Rocky Face, Georgia and found nearly all the stations closed or with their pump handles bagged. Thankfully, the BP station had Premium. But, despite those few notable mentions, we were both glad to be home and in our own beds at the end of the day.
All-in-all, it was great to see and spend time with our cycling friends. We enjoyed the two days of cycling that we participated in, the host hotel and staff was excellent and we really enjoyed our visits to Father Tom’s and even Buffalo’s. I do think that we may have to re-evaluate our future rally plans and give up on Thursday evenings and the Friday mass starts to better suit our schedule. We’ll see…