Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these up… which is to say it’s been a while since we’ve done a multi-day tandem event. In fact, it’s also been a while since we spent much more than two-hours in the saddle, the last time being a ride in Rome, Georgia back on August 4th. Everything else since then had been short, 25-mile loops from the house, typically just once a weekend. So, I gotta tell ya, it was a BLAST being back on the road and — best of all — being back on the road at a tandem rally and on our triplet!
I believe this was the 33rd annual Southern Tandem Rally (our 13th) and it was one of the best! In fact, if you’re so inclined, you can finally find a summary of all the Southern Tandem Rallies at the “new” STR Website by clicking HERE. Yes, hard to believe it’s taken this long, but with a tip of the hat to the folks who put together this year’s Southern Tandem Rally at St. Augustine, Florida, there is now a permanent STR Web site presence, which is awesome. But, I digress…
STR 2012 was hosted by Rick & Debbie Bracket (below, left) and a team of volunteers — Gary & Deb Testa (still looking for photo), Don & Carol Novak (below, center) and Randy & Claudia Rowe (below, right) — who went all-out to make sure the 140 or so teams would have a great time from start to finish during their visit to St. Augustine.
Now, under the heading of full disclosure, regular readers will recall we participated in an exploratory St. Augustine mini-rally back in March 2011 we reported on HERE. So, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of the accommodations, riding and of course our host’s attention to detail and a flair for providing first class treatment. Adding to the “excitement” was the prospect of teaming up with one of our friends — Lisa D or perhaps her daughter Anna — on our triplet for the three-day event: we absolutely love doing rallies on the triplet!!!
We began planning our STR visit back at the Georgia & Tennessee Tandem Rallies in May & June, since sorting out the riding arrangements for the multi-seat bikes is always part of the equation. As previously noted, our circle of friends has at their disposal 3 or 4 triplets plus a convertible tandem/triplet/quad. The latter provides a lot of flexibility when it comes to accommodating “riders without captains” and teams looking to set land speed records by doubling-up on the quad. So, it looked like the quad would be used for one of our friends and her daughter, while both triplets would be pressed into service for two other friends, which was fine by us. We made our STR reservations shortly after the web site opened up and secured our rooms in August, after being reminded we had not done so by Rick & Debbie Bracket. In regard to the latter I must say, the organizers did an amazing job of flowing out information via the STR Website, Email and an STR Facebook page.
As STR weekend came into view we realized that October was going to be a very busy month, as we’d be headed to Panama City Beach, Florida the week prior for a 5-day mini holiday at Bike Week (which you can read at our other blog by clicking this link). The week after, my folks would be in town for their annual pass-through visit on the way to visit my Aunt Polly in Ft. Myers, Florida. When coupled with a somewhat heavier than normal task load at work and the need to take off several days for these events, it was a little more daunting than what we’re used to.
PREP & THE TRIP DOWN
Our plan was to head down Thursday afternoon as soon as Debbie could get away from work with a goal of arriving before 10pm. It’s a six-hour drive regardless of which route you take, more or less on eof those “you can’t get there from here” destinations from Atlanta. Back-scheduling from the Thursday afternoon departure, I figured out I’d need to start getting the triplet down from the rafters, prepped and ready to ride on Wednesday evening and also get the Calfee packed into the truck as our back-up ride. The majority of the packing and prep would then take place on Thursday, after I made a brief appearance at work for some early morning meetings.
Almost everything went off without a hitch… if you can look past the triplet falling over on its own and being “christened” ( I’ll expand on the christening in another blog entry) and forgetting to pack our water bottles. Regardless, and aside from forgetting the water bottles, I had the truck packed and ready to roll once Debbie arrived home from work at 2:30.
We hit the road right around 3:00 and it was a pretty easy and uneventful trip… aside from a bit of traffic congestion where I75 and I85 merge on the north side of Atlanta, and then again at the south side of Atlanta where a gawkers block was backing up traffic as the short attention-span morons checked out a truck having its tire changed on the shoulder of the road.
We opted to take the shortest and most direct route via I16 to Dublin, Georgia and then south on state highways to Waycross, Georgia vs. the longer distance route via I75 to I10. The payoff was finding an Applebee’s in Waycross where we could sit down to enjoy some cocktails and dinner at the bar while watching the Detroit Tigers clinch the American League pennant. It made for a very nice break in the trip and still allowed us to arrive at the Marriott Renaissance a little before 10pm. In fact, we found some of our friends had just pulled in and were off-loading their luggage when we arrived. That gave us a chance to say hello and firm up Friday’s ride plans before heading to our room and calling it a night.
Friday began with a very nice breakfast buffet served in the “Villagio” beginning at 6:30am. I was up early as normal and did my best not to wake up Debbie as I headed out to see what was going on and to get a head start on getting the triplet off the truck and ready to ride. However, in addition to being dark the bike and truck were also soaking wet from a heavy dew; therefore, I opted to pass on doing the bike thing until the sun came up. As I passed back through the lobby of the hotel I could see the early risers were already in their riding clothes and having breakfast: note, I don’t do breakfast in cycling clothes. Given the rider’s meeting would be at 8:45, as the clock made its way around to 7:30 I rousted Debbie for breakfast. We quickly made our way through the buffet line, enjoyed our breakfast and then I headed out to begin getting the triplet ready while Debbie returned to the room to get herself ready to ride.
I was pleased to see my hybrid roof rack for the triplet worked quite well this time around as none of the roof rack components shifted during the 380-mile trip. With the triplet down on the ground and wiped clean of dew, I dialed-in the rear stoker compartment using Lisa’s specs and then did a quick tire swap to put some meatier 28mm tires on the triplet vs. the 25mm tires that were on the wheels I planned to use for the weekend. I should have caught this at the house and made the change before packing the bike, but was a bit out of practice and missed that.
With the wheels mounted and reinstalled, I went to top off the air pressure on the tires and realized the pressure gauge on my Park floor pump was no longer functioning, the latest issue in a long line of issues with that crappy pump. I went ahead and filled the tires based on feel, wrestled the pump head “chuck” off the valve stem (another long-term problem with this pump) and planned to borrow another pump with a working gauge to make sure the pressure was high enough before we started the ride. With the triplet almost ready to go, I headed up to our room to get into my cycling clothes and make sure Debbie was on track to make her way down in time for the rider’s meeting.
When I returned to the triplet imagine my surprise when our guest stoker Lisa pointed out the rear tire I had just installed was flat! What the…? Once again, in the process of pulling off the crappy Park floor pump’s crappy pump head chuck a small tear was created where the valve stem is bonded to the inner tube: a tear that can’t be repaired. This was the same type of tube failure I mentioned back on July 30th when our front tire suddenly went flat as we left the house for a Saturday loop ride.
I did a quick tire change and was able to borrow a “good” pump (as well as some water bottles) from Ric and Marcia Becker from the House of Tandems who made the long trip over to St. Augustine from Houston, Texas. Ric & Marcia (photo at left) provided exceptional SAG and other related support throughout the rally and were really a joy to meet. More on them later in future entry.
After a thorough rider’s meeting, the 100+ tandem teams on hand for the Friday morning ride headed out for route options that ranged from 27 to 52 miles. When we rolled out I’d thought we’d be doing a 42 mile ride but was informed once we were rolling we’d be going 52; doh! That’s a lot of saddle time for flat riding on nearly no base mileage.
We made our way to the front group and had a very nice ride to the first SAG stop, noting SAG stops are not the norm for most tandem rallies. I’m still not sure I’m in love with the concept for several reasons. Regardless, we played along and made the stop. Once we were there we discovered our friends on the yellow triplet had some fit issues. In short, Lisa’s daughter Anna had finally grown to be too tall to ride in the 3rd position behind Brenda, who is now quite a bit shorter than Anna. I ended up just swapping their riding positions at the stop as it was the only way to get the handlebars where they needed to be for a proper fit.
We had to make two more minor adjustments after we got underway to get them dialed-in, which also worked out since the quad was not all that prompt in getting out of the SAG stop.
Because of the SAG stop, making adjustments, and waiting for the quad we pretty much lost all of our riding partners from the first leg to the SAG stop. We ultimately ended up with a small group that got even smaller when we reached the 42/52 mile split just a few miles down the road from the SAG stop. So, I think we had the yellow triplet, the blue quad, and perhaps 3 other tandems in our ride group for the 30 some-odd miles we had left to ride.
Because we rode the long route and were late in leaving the SAG stop, we also ended up being just about the last group to roll into the 2nd SAG stop at a very nice park at the St. Johns River. Moreover, we ended up spending a long time there as our friends explored the pier and views before getting back on the road for the final leg to the hotel and may have been just about the last tandems in on Friday.
We rolled into Golf World around 1:30 and went directly to the Murray Brother’s Caddy Shack restaurant and bar for lunch, where we found the place was packed with riders who had gone shorter distances with shorter stops. We were quickly seat and had a very good lunch… very good in that the Chicago hot dog I had this time wasn’t nearly as good or authentic as the one I had back in March ’11 (a bit of a bummer). However, the shot of tequila I had was quite generous and allowed me to quickly fall into a relaxed mood that made for a very nice afternoon.
After lunch most of our friends and Debbie headed down to the beach whileI decided to go in search of a bike shop where I could find some water bottles and a new pump, as I had had it with that crappy Park pump. James was kind enough to go along with me on my search. The shop the locals recommended ended up being about 20 miles away in Jacksonville but, on the bright side, it was a great shop that had exactly what I needed: the right type of water bottles and an excellent Specialized pump.
As we drove back to the hotel we received a call from our friends who were at the beach and beginning to work up dinner plans. We had already decided we would pass on an early dinner, attend the ice cream social at the PGA hall of fame, and then have dinner at the elegant hour. We shared our plans with our friends and they opted to eat down in St. Augustine at Capp’s, a popular local place very close to where they were.
Once we were back at the hotel, James headed down to book his travel arrangements and I headed up to the hospitality suite to shoot the breeze with other guests until the gals returned from the beach. After getting freshened up and relaxing a bit in our hotel room, we met our friends and headed over to the “Divots on the Green” ice cream social at the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Even though we’re no longer golf enthusiasts — having given up golf for tandem cycling back in 1997 — the museum and hall of fame were really quite amazing. We had a great time exploring the place, made all that much more interesting by the trivia game and very friendly guides. After the ice cream social we decided to return to the Caddy Shack restaurant for dinner vs. making the 20 minute drive into St. Augustine, finding a place to park, waiting for a table, etc. It was a good choice. Dinner was good, we were all relaxed and the trip home was a short walk to the hotel. Interestingly enough, I left my car keys on the table, which I was able to retrieve the following afternoon. Guess that’s one of the reasons that I always ask Debbie to carry a second set of keys in her purse when we travel.
Debbie and I decided to relax in the lobby for a while once we had returned to the hotel, which was really quite nice. It gave us some nice alone time in a lovely environment before heading to our room and calling it a night.
Part II can be found HERE.
Note: Photos shown here are a collection of images taken by other STR guests and/or found on the internet when a photo taken by someone at the event could not be found to fit the purpose. Someday we’ll actually use the camera that we haul everywhere.