I must confess, last Spring we had originally made some preliminary plans to attend Biketoberfest in Daytona Beach, Florida, with our friends David & Deb only to realize it fell on the same weekend as the Southern Tandem Rally (STR) in Cullman, Alabama. We struggled with the decision — even considered passing on STR — then ultimately decided we’d go to Thunder Beach in Panama City Beach during the first weekend in October to get our fall motorcycle rally fix, attend STR, and make plans to attend Bike Week in Daytona next March.
The decision proved to be a fortuitous one, as we met some folks down in Panama City Beach from Atlanta who we may have never come to know were it not for that chance encounter. However, as we got ready for the trip to Cullman and made the drive over, part of us really wanted to be on our Road King headed to Daytona. We’re now investigating how we might be able to combine our passion for tandem cycling with our passion for motorcycling… more on that in a subsequent posting.
On to the rally…. and before I forget, our thanks to Jack & Susan Goertz for putting on what was the 35th annual Southern Tandem Rally. We truly appreciate how much time and effort it takes to host an event like this, having watched our friends Roger & Eve do so for the past 14 years or so with their Georgia Tandem Rally. I lack the people skills to be a patient and understanding “host” and would be more inclined to hold a “no frills & no bitch’n” event than the very-well-planned affairs that people have come to expect at an STR or GTR,.
OK, on to the rally report…
We decided to fall-back to the more traditional tandem rally time-table from years back when the “big ride” on Fridays was the afternoon “warm up” for folks who could arrive early enough to enjoy a short ride before an afternoon social and dinner on their own. This would allow us to get in a full day of work on Thursday, get a good night’s rest in our own bed and then make the 3-hour drive over on Friday morning and arrive in time to catch an afternoon ride.
For those who may have only started doing tandem rallies over the past few years, back when we first started to attend tandem rallies in 1997 this was the “norm”. However, at some point rally organizers began to offer an “optional” on your own Friday morning ride for the handful of rally attendees who decided to arrive on Thursday afternoons or evenings so they’d have something to do on Friday morning. Over time, the Friday morning “own your own” ride has become the third “big ride” for rallies, complete with the ubiquitous mass-start and, in essence, extended rallies to three full-days and, in some cases, 3.5 days with optional Thursday evening dinner gatherings.
In some respects, it’s nice that rallies have been extended so that folks who have to travel significant distances can amortize their investment in travel time and rally registration fees over more days and more events. However, for “working stiffs” where both team members may not have liberal vacation schedules, it can leave you “playing catch-up” with the folks who were able to partake in the Thursday evening events and early Friday ride, albeit with an extra $100 – $150 in your pocket by foregoing the third hotel night stay expense. Perhaps when we finally reach retirement age (or win the lottery) we’ll be able to be partkers! But I digress…
We used our extra evening at home to meet some friends for dinner on Thursday and I was able to get some work done on Friday morning before we began packing at 8:00am for our 9:00am departure. We opted to take the 200-mile drive via I20 and I65 instead of the more direct 145-mile route on US 278 since the drive time was purportedly the same. (Note: Turns out, we were able to cut 30 minutes from our drive using US 278 on Sunday’s drive home).
We lucked out and were able to check into our hotel room when we arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in Cullman around 11:20am. After unpacking and getting changed into our cycling clothes, we met our friends Eric, Linda & Lisa for lunch near the remote start around 11:45am, which give us enough time to eat and still make the 1:00pm “organized start”. Eric, Linda & Lisa had already ridden the short, 25-mile morning ride as they’d planned to do the afternoon ride with another couple — Ryan & Christen — who were traveling down from Richmond, Virginia for the event, so in theory we’d have a few other friends with us when we started the ride.
We ended up having a pretty good group for the afternoon ride with perhaps six tandem teams all told by the time we ended. We picked up at least one team along the way on what was a pretty nice ride. The roads were about as rough as we’ve learned to expect in rural Alabama counties, but we were a bit surprised by how hilly it was… nothing too hard, but certainly not what we’d expected.
After getting cleaned-up and relaxing a bit, we headed off to the All Steak House in downtown Cullman for an afternoon social, which turned out to be a very nice affair. There was a good selection of hot hors d’oeuvres with a German flair and a nice selection of beers and wines for the well-attended affair. I spent a lot of my time catching up with Hank & Susan from Diamond Head, MS, and then visiting with a few other friends from Atlanta. Our friends Paul & Jody invited us to join them and their friends Bob & Kay — also from Atlanta — for dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. We had a very lively and enjoyable discussion (well, OK… I was carrying around some pent-up angst WRT politicians & the infotainment industry and may have gone into full-on soap-box mode: my apologies to all), but Debbie and I may have missed the mark with our dinner selections: we opted for salads instead of their Italian fare and salads were definitely not their forte. Others who had the more traditional entrees reported having very tasty meals. After dinner and back at the hotel, our always thoughtful friends Roger & Eve picked up some special dessert items that they used to surprise another Atlanta-based friend — Mitzi — who was celebrating her birthday at STR. She was clearly surprised and everyone had a good time before calling it a night around 10:00pm. Clearly, somewhat earlier than what we’re used to for a Friday night! We also called it a night early, but as expected… I found myself up around 3:00am after getting my 4-5 hours of needed rest.
The day started with breakfast at the hotel as everyone kept their eye on the weather. While we were all expecting cooler temps, the rain which was “supposed to” track well south of Cullman had somehow found its way to us and “mucked-up” the mass start scheduled for 8:30am. Some of the more intrepid folks went ahead and started per schedule in the light rain whereas we and several other folks waited until around 9:30am, when the rain had stopped. We’d hoped that a group of fellow Atlanta riders would wait for the triplet team — Eric, Linda & Lisa — to be ready so we’d have a larger group to start with but they elected to go when they were ready and noted that “they’d be able to catch-up“. We waited for the triplet and after a slow start, were making pretty good time as we left town and did, in fact, finally catch up to the Atlanta contingent. However, about 10-15 minutes after we joined forces, they reached an intersection offering them a “short-cut” that would reduce Saturday’s 57-mile route to about 42-miles. So, we were on our own again with just our friends Eric, Linda & Lisa, which was fine: it gave us a steady rear wheel to follow and always enjoyable on-bike discussions.
We had a pretty good ride up and until around the 45-mile mark, at which point our lack of any base distance miles beyond the 30 or we get from our local loop rides began to take its toll as we hit some pretty good rollers just outside of Cullman. Some friends from Asheville, North Carolina — Tom & Robyn — who’d been pacing off our rear wheel now became our rabbit for the final stretch to the lunch stop at the Saint Bernard Abbey in Cullman. Interestingly enough, all three of our teams ended up missing the same turn and found ourselves trying to get our bearings on a side street just a few miles from the Saint Bernard along with a fourth couple — John & Madelyn — from Indiana. John opted to go for the “as the crow flies” and simply plugged the Abbey into his GPS. With some help from a Cullman fire department officer who blocked traffic with his Tahoe service vehicle, we were able to make a swift, final leg into the Saint Bernard’s.
Although lunch was a “brown bag” affair, the contents were pretty good. Some nice veggie soup, a deli sandwich with a nice portion of meat, some chips, a brownie and your choice of soft drinks. The folks who took advantage of the Ave Maria Grotto tour were, to a person, pretty amazed by the stone & concrete, miniature reproductions of famous structures from around the world created by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk of St. Bernard Abbey. I was more interested in getting back to the hotel and relaxing than touring the Grotto and Debbie was right there with me. So, right after lunch we along with Tom & Robyn skipped the tour and make quick work out of the final 7-mile trek back to the hotel.
After cleaning up, we visited with some of the other rally guests at the wine and cheese social in the hotel hospitality suite before heading over to the Cullman Regional Medical Center’s, Colonel Cullmann Banquet Room for dinner. After we finished our dinner, Debbie and I went in search of a “sports bar” where we could really relax, enjoy some college football and perhaps meet a few other like-minded folks who also enjoy hanging out with “regulars” at a sports bar, as they tend to be great experiences: we lucked-out in Cullman. There were two places that came up at the top of the Google search engine: Grumpy’s and High Tide. We opted for High Tide and had a great time and met some really neat folks, i.e., the owner, staff & regulars at High Tide. We stayed through the end of the Alabama blow-out of Arkansas and headed back to our hotel which, as expected, was devoid of any evening activity when we arrived around 10:00pm. We watched a little more football in the hotel lounge — USC vs. Notre Dame — before heading to bed; it was really a pretty amazing day for College Football, which we really enjoy!
Well, it wasn’t raining but it was quite cool when we woke up for Sunday’s last ride of the weekend: 37°F. Well, this wasn’t exactly a surprise as we’d all seen this in the forecast. I’d packed enough cycling gear to deal with the cold morning air, so if Debbie was willing, we’d be riding! She was and we did, but it was a focused ride as we wanted to be on the road before 11:00am so we’d be home by around 3:00pm, as we still had “stuff to do” before returning to work on Monday. As a result, we pretty much did a solo, non-stop ride after the first 6 or 7 miles… and that’s OK too. We like riding with other teams, but don’t really get into too many on-the-road dialogs and have learned to simply enjoy being together out on the bike. Motorcycle or tandem bicycle, it doesn’t matter: we simply love to be with each other so having others along side is merely the icing on the cake not an imperative. Although, it was interesting to watch one of our friends — a very strong team that really likes to be out in front — ride tempo to bridge up to us after hanging back with the Atlanta gang for quite a few miles and then motor on and out of sight.
We were back at the hotel around 10:30 and, per plan, on the road by 11:00am. As noted early in this entry, we opted to take US route 278 back to Marietta and made exceptional time. We intentionally skipped lunch along the way and, instead, decided to go straight to Loco Willy’s to grab some wings and watch the end of the Atlanta Falcon’s game en route to the house. It was a nice way to end the trip before diving into the laundry and other end-of-the-weekend honey-dos.