Thankfully, the weather guessers were a bit off with their forecast and Saturday morning was a bit warmer than we expected when woke up.
The day started with a short walk from the Marriott Shoals hotel to their conference center and the STR breakfast buffet. We arrived around 7:45am and the place was already packed-full with STR riders all dressed up in their riding togs and ready to go. I think we’ve successfully avoided ever coming to breakfast in our cycling apparel at a rally, noting that I tend to wear cycling clothes only at those times when we’re on the bike: it’s not comfortable off the bike and rarely flattering. But I digress: breakfast was a bit cold but tasty and there was a wide variety of all kinds of food so everyone seemed to be happy.
The riders meeting was held at 8:45am in front of the Conference Center and STR Co-Chair Jack Goertz provided the pre-ride talk. I think Jack’s been on too many of Santana’s tours as his rider’s meetings continue to get longer, and longer and longer — reminiscent of Bill McCready’s pre-ride talks — such that I tend to zone out about 1/2 way through. To be fair, both Jack and Bill are always trying to do their best to make sure riders don’t overlook any of the sights along the ride route and to point out anything that could be a potential hazard to folks who could be caught off-guard during a group ride with 102 other tandems… or perhaps 50 or so once you factor out the folks who opt-out of the mass-start and longer ride routes. The Saturday ride was billed as a 55-mile route that would include about 18 miles along the Natchez Trace Parkway, so there were options that allowed folks to skip the first 18 miles between the hotel and the Trace to reduce their net mileage. Having kept our mileage in check on Friday at 40 miles, we were in pretty good shape for the 55-mile route.
As is typical for the tandem rallies held in the Southeast US, a mass-start is standard fare as is a police escort on Saturdays and often times on Sundays as well. We REALLY enjoy the mass starts as it ensures all of the folks who are attending the rally have an equal chance of finding other teams who ride at their same level who they might not ever meet if left to figure when to leave and with whom… as we have found with rallies in the Northeast. Of course, the one thing that can screw things up is when the faster teams jump off the front from the git-go, which strings-out the entire tandem procession and makes managing traffic a bigger challenge for the local authorities. STR’s Saturday ride wasn’t all that bad as the teams that went to the front right from the parking lot began to stretch things out, but then throttled back a bit. Once the procession reached the outskirts of Florence the faster teams fell back into the pack and by the time we were on the lesser-travelled road leading to the Natchez Trace Parkway we were in good company with the two triplet teams — Team WoodGood + Lisa Davis & Team Mohs-LeBlanc + Anna Davis — and Team Quadzilla… Mark Johnson with Julie & daughters Natalie & Courtney on their Co-Motion Quad, as well as the rest of the usual suspects and some other teams from the midwest.
We fell in behind Mark Johnson’s Quad as the first two triplets went off the front and gapped the pack during some of the early hills along the road to Natchez Trace. However, once the road leveled-out ‘Team Quadzilla’ picked-up steam and quickly bridged the gap to the triplets. Once all of the really long-bikes were back in the same group (aka, grouppo compacto), Quadzilla moved to the front and pulled the train with us sitting in second position. We were living the dream for the next 13 miles or so, tucked into the draft of the 4-seat freight train engine captained by Mark Johnson: I’d forgotten what it was like to be on a single drafting a tandem and sucking the rear wheel of the quad quickly reminded me of just how much fun that was. Our friends Smith and Claude — a very strong team from North Carolina — tried to help out Team Quadzilla and the rest of our posse by taking a long pull at the front, but their tempo wasn’t exactly as smooth as the quad which gave rise to some disconcerting ‘slinky’ action in the drafting line: lots of soft pedalling and even some brake action were required to deal with the surges of our friends as they throttled up and back trying to pace the quad. They finally pulled off, fell back and allowed Team Quadzilla to resume the pace-setting, which once again put us back in cycling nirvana.
A few miles from the Trace, Team Quadzilla pulled off the front and we did our best to pull the train and ended up being pretty spent by the time we hit the short climb on the on-ramp to the Trace. We petered-out a bit more as we crossed the bridge over the Tennessee River on our way to the official SAG stop at Colbert Ferry. Again, riding the rear wheel of Johnson family’s quad was one of the best times we’ve ever had riding in a drafting line in our 13-years of tandem riding. It was simply amazing how effortless it was to sit with our front tire 2″ away from their rear tire knowing that there wouldn’t be any sudden surges to deal with.
At the SAG stop we ditched our wind vests, scarfed-down some snacks and then headed back out on the Trace with our friends on the triplets, Team Hollansworth from Arkansas, Team Boehm from Chicago, and Team Sutton from Chattanooga. Shortly after we were underway Team Doss-Monnier from North Carolina joined us and rode off the front with Team Hollansworth at a slightly quicker tempo. We were able to hang with the triplets and our friends for about 3/4’s of the way to our exit off the Trace, at which point Team Boehm was nice enough to drop back and pace us back up to the group. Shortly after we were all back together we reached our exit and the Wichahpi Commemorative Stone Wall, aka, Te-lah-nay’s wall or “Tom’s Wall”, where the group stopped to do some exploring and perhaps hear more about the wall from its builder, Tom Hendrix. You can read more about Tom’s Wall HERE.
Given our scant base mileage, we needed to keep moving so we opted not to explore the wall and headed on down the road on our own. Interestingly enough, we found ourselves at a crossroad where my ‘spidey-sense’ kicked in to suggest that we’d somehow missed a turn, remembering that we’d left our GPS / Computers at home and really didn’t have any ‘data’ to work with on today’s ride. Debbie and I kept looked at the cue sheet and then at the somewhat hard-to-read route map and quickly realized a key turn on Lauderdale Road #15 had somehow not made it on the cue sheet. We doubled-back the 1.5 miles to find the illusive Road #15 to confirm what we suspected. Along the way back to 15, we attempted to warn a couple of teams who we passed by using hand signals to point back towards the missed turn, but I’m not sure it had any effect. Cell phone coverage was also a problem so we couldn’t call back and forewarn our friends about the cue sheet omission. Anyway, we soldiered-on and quickly found that the cue sheet and map were back in sync and made our way to the lunch stop at the University of North Alabama. As we arrived at the Guillot Center we discovered we were the first rally riders to reach the lunch stop. After parking out tandem up on the terrace near the student center, we were greeted by Susan Goertz who was glad to see us, but concerned that no one else had arrived since the official lunch stop had been open for nearly 25 minutes. We let her know about the missing turn and that turned out to be the root cause of most missing riders, as at least 30 teams had overshot the turn and logged an extra 5 – 10 miles, depending on how long it took for them to realize something was amiss. It was also interesting to learn that the teams who had GPS devices received signals for the correct turn omitted from the cue sheet… but folks apparently had more faith in the paper cue sheets than their $$ GPS units and ignored the GPS instructions. To add insult to injury, the poor cell phone coverage prevented most riders from reaching the rally organizers as they tried to figure out how to get back on route, so once again modern technology was of little use.
On the bright side, the lunch was really quite good. There was a nice salad, beef stew, a vegan stew, chicken salad, other cold salads, lots of nice breads, cookies and brownies plus a never-ending flow of soft drinks from the student center’s soda fountain. Even better, there was a TV that allowed us to watch the Georgia vs. Vandy game and otherwise catch up on the scores around the country. About 10 minutes after we arrived the rest of the rally participants began to drift into the student center for lunch and, sure enough… they’d all missed the unmarked turn. Thankfully, the weather, roads and companionship was so good that no one really minded getting the extra mileage. Therefore, the cue sheet faux pax was quickly dismissed as a blip on otherwise wonderful day of riding.
Before heading back to the hotel, we and the rest of the “usual suspects” plus several other teams opted to stop at the Usonian-styled Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Rosenbaum House… a real treat for me as I’ve toured all of the FLW structures near Chicago and several others over the years.
Following our hour-long visit at the Rosenbaum House, we made our way back to the Marriott and got ourselves cleaned up for the STR social and banquet while catching some more college football. The banquet was very nice, even though we and our dinner companions ended up being the very last table called to the serving lines. But, as it turned out, there was plenty of food, the food was all exceptional and we just had a darn good time. The entertainment portion of the evening turned out to be pretty neat, a history of the Muscle Shoals recording studio history. I believe the speaker was Terry Pace, a local music historian, author and educator. The following is ‘similar’ to what Terry presented.
Again, another wonderful day with great friends and once again the Goertz’ succeeded in delivering an event that was chock-full of fascinating history from Alabama, noting the first STR we attended back in 1998 was held in Selma, Alabama… another city with a rich history.