This year’s Georgia Tandem Rally (GTR) was held at Athens, Georgia… that little city out in the country that’s home to the University of Georgia (UGA).
This was the fourth time GTR visited Athens, the first two being back-to-back visits in 2001 and 2002 (GTR #3 & #4) and then again more recently in 2009 (GTR #11). It’s no coincidence these more recent returns to Athens have coincided with GTR directors Roger Strauss & Eve Kofsky’s son Elliott’s search for a college and recent graduation from UGA. Hard to believe he’s now a college graduate, never mind that we’ve now attended 16 GTRs! Wow, does time ever fly!
I can still vividly recall making our first trip out to Madison, Georgia for the first GTR in 1999. We stopped by the Atlanta airport to pick-up Glenn & Nancy Erickson and their tandem on Friday morning and arrived at the host hotel in Madison with just enough time to get ready for Friday’s day afternoon warm-up ride.
Yes, back in the day tandem rallies were more or less three-day affairs where only the teams that had to travel significant distances would arrive on Thursday nights, with the lion’s share of attendees coming in around lunch time on Friday to meet, eat and then do a ‘warm-up ride’ as something of a bonus before the rally began in earnest Saturday morning. At least this was the norm to us based on our experience with a couple of Southern Tandem Rallies, the Alabama Tandem Weekend and an Eastern Tandem Rally. Back in the day, GTR was limited to 50 tandem teams and most of those came from North Georgia, with just a few folks coming in from Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas. Today, GTR has grown to over 135 tandem teams where folks from Florida always seem to outnumber riders from the next two or three states combined, to include Georgia! With so many teams having to make such a long trip the logical progression has been to kick-off GTR on Thursday evenings with a social of some type and the first of three days of cycling with a mass-start organized ride on Friday mornings.
It’s also worth noting that GTR has grown into the third largest tandem rally in the nation, where the Midwest Tandem Rally remains the largest, followed by the Northwest Tandem Rally and of late GTR has been able to eclipse the Eastern Tandem Rally for attendance which hovers around 100. That said, the 2014 Southwest Tandem Rally held in Little Rock, Arkansas in early May had a very strong showing and may have gotten into GTR numbers had they not limited their attendance; the rally sold-out in just a couple days! I’m not sure if that was unique to the event moving out of the Texas / Oklahoma venues and the outstanding organization / feature packed agenda that was offered by the hosts who are professional event planners or a sign of increased interest in tandem cycling in that region. But, I digress…
Getting back to this year’s GTR, we had a great time. Once again, co-directors Roger and Eve came up with a full schedule of events, provided immense amounts of advanced information, made it hard for riders to get lost on route as they were provided with cue sheets, maps, painted road markings and downloadable GPS coordinates for the nine different routes offered over the three days. Think about that for a minute: nine (9) different routes ranging from 26 to 67 miles. Yeah, that’s a ton of work in and of itself. Add to that coordinating three mass starts / police escorts with the Athens-Clark Police Dept for Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning, social events at three high-end public facilities, catered lunch and dinner for nearly 300 people on Saturday and three additional socials at three different pubs. Makes me tired just trying to recall it all from memory and write about it. So, here now the details from our GTR experience.
Our plan was to head up to Athens, Georgia after work on Thursday evening so we could get a good night’s sleep and be fresh for the 8:30am riders meeting on Friday. The alternative was to sleep at home then hop in the car on Friday morning at 5:30am for the 2 hour drive to Athens and arrive “just in time” for the start. We’ve done that a couple times in the past and it’s not the best way to start a weekend where the goal is to ride hard, socialize and relax and not be in a hurry to get anywhere fast!
Our plan was to take our triplet and ride with Lisa Davis as our “tailgunner” for all three days, which is always a good time. Lisa is a very strong rider and a great conversationalist which gives Debbie lots of time to catch up on what’s going on with Lisa and otherwise has a great time chatting with other teams when we’re on the road. I had the triplet pulled down from its storage hooks in the garage earlier in the week to make sure it was ready to go, i.e., rear saddle adjusted for Lisa’s riding position, saddle pack, computers and lights moved over from the Calfee and otherwise in good working order. Regular readers will also recall I opted to install some mud guards as the weather for Athens was looking “iffy.” As discussed in my mud guard blog entries last week, I figured installing the mud guards would appease the weather gods who might then grant us dry roads.
With the triplet ready to go, it was loaded on top of our truck with the Calfee stowed in the back “just in case” we needed parts to support the triplet or if there were any last-minute changes in guest stoker assignments. The usual bicycle maintenance equipment was also thrown in for good measure – foldable work stand, tool box, spare parts box, battery-powered Dremel tool and battery-powered ½” drill with easy-outs – so we’d be able to handle just about any type of mishaps or failure.
Thursday afternoon I knocked-off work around 2:00pm so I could head home to do a few loads of laundry while also getting the weekly yard work taken care of and then get all of our cycling gear and personal “stuff” loaded in the truck so we’d be ready to roll when Miss Debbie got home from work around 6:00pm. Once Debbie was home, a quick check of traffic showed our only direct route to Athens would be backed up with traffic until about 7:30pm or 8:00pm. That worked out just fine as we stopped at On the Border and had our “Finally a Friday” dinner a day early which adjusted our departure time such that our drive over to Athens via I85 to GA129 was a smooth, traffic-free ride that had us at our hotel by 9:00pm.
We thought about stopping in at the Thursday night ice cream social being held at the University of Georgia Special Collections Library in the Richard B. Russell Building from 7:30pm to 9:30pm, but opted to get settled-in at our room and then visited with some friends in the hotel lobby as they began to return from the social. That pretty much carried us until the end of the night when we retired for some needed rest.
The first official full day of the rally got off to an uncharacteristic bumpy start as the hotel had grossly miscalculated what level of service would be required to support 270 hungry cyclists attempting to eat breakfast between the hours of 6:00am and 7:30am so that they’d still have time to get ready to ride by 8:30am. Suffices to say, the hotel learned the hard lesson and “fixed” that issue for Saturday and Sunday.
After working through the breakfast challenge I had the triplet unloaded and ready to ride with both stokers aboard by 8:25am. Not a lot of time to spare, but then again we knew the pre-ride instructions and announcements would last a good 10-15 minutes. However, the delays didn’t really give me enough time to even think about getting the GoPro cameras out for Friday’s ride so no video coverage of our first day on the triplet will be forthcoming.
The ride itself was quite nice. But, as has become something of a bad habit, I started out too close to the front of the pack and lost track of our usual riding partners for the first leg of our 48-mile ride. On the bright side, we fell in with some very nice folks from Florida that made for an enjoyable day on the bike. We’d hoped to fall in with our friends at the store stop but as our legs began get cold from standing around we realized our friends weren’t quite ready to roll. We let them know we were heading out and went out at a pace that allowed Team Osgood-Wood on their Rocket Red triplet with their guest stoker for the day – Joanne from South Carolina –and Team Catterall from Mississippi catch up with us before too many miles rolled by. A few miles into the second leg of the ride our friends indicated they’d be interested in making a short stop at a church just to get some time off the bike and we bid farewell to our “crew” from earlier in the day when we finally found a good candidate.
Murphy’s Law was in full effect when we stopped as there was apparently a turn mark on the road right in front of the church that we never saw because the church driveway conveniently circumnavigated us around that road marking, such that we took the wrong fork in the road when we exited the church driveway. It wasn’t until we were screaming down a nice 1.5 mile downhill grade that we saw tandems headed the other way and began to suspect we’d somehow missed a turn. It was also near the bottom of this hill where one of our riding companions with a GPS computer noted, “yes, we’re well off the route:” the latter would be one of those little details that would have been good to right after we missed the turn! Oh well, pain is just weakness leaving the body, right?!
We recovered from that miscue and had a very nice rest of the ride in towards Athens where we were quickly reminded that the city sits atop a piedmont with very steep coming in from all directions. After a day of flawless shifting our triplet threw its chain when I shifted into the granny gear which was really odd given we have a chain watcher on the frame to prevent that very thing. Stalling out at the base of a ½ mile long, 10% grade was not what we needed 49 miles into our ride!! But, we overcame and made our way up the remaining hills without further incident.
I wish we’d had been in better shape with more than perhaps 300 base miles year-to-date on our legs so that our guest stoker Lisa wouldn’t have had to do as much of the heavy lifting as she did on our ride. Without a doubt, that was our longest and hardest ride of the year. If felt great to get out and get that many miles in, but it was a humbling experience to say the least.
After returning to the hotel and getting cleaned-up a bit we headed to lunch with Lisa, Eric & Linda at The Last Resort, perhaps the best restaurant in Athens… no, it IS the best restaurant in Athens. However, since we went at 1:00pm our wait for a table was quite short at 15 minutes and the lunch time menu was actually very interesting.
After lunch we walked around the town a bit and eventually ran into some friends from Ohio – Tom & Donna Cross. Our expanded group made its way over to “Clocked” where most I think everyone other than me indulged themselves with some decadent milk shakes and malts. Our visit to Clocked coincided with the first of two heavy thunderstorms of the day; thankfully, this one was brief and it was a short, steamy walk back to our hotel.
Debbie wandered up to the room to finish getting ready for the evening while I headed into the hospitality suite where Rick & Marsha Becker from House of Tandems near Houston, Texas had set-up shop with a wide variety of Spinergy wheels and a couple of tandems from Paketa and daVinci on display. I had a nice time visiting with Rick & Marsha – as always, they’re simply the nicest folks you ever want to meet – and learned all about the days’ rescue missions. Seriously, I’m not sure what the deal is but ever since Rick & Marsha began attending the Georgia and Southern Tandem Rallies and providing SAG support it seems like more tandems have been breaking-down than ever before. There’s hardly been a day at any of these rallies where someone hasn’t nearly destroyed the drive train, a wheel or other part of their tandem where Rick & Marsha either had to rebuild the bike to get them going or outright rescue them from the road and bring their broken bike back to the hotel for intensive care or retirement. God love ‘em, they’ve been lifesavers and do it all with a smile. Hopefully all of their goodwill and kindness will be rewarded when folks consider making their next tandem or tandem equipment purchase, as they’re definitely earned strong consideration for all they do to support the tandem community.
Around 5:30 as we readied ourselves for the walk to dinner the skies once again opened up with plenty of thunder and lightning. It was truly a “gully washer” of a downpour with momentary flooding at every low spot and storm drain. Our 6:00pm reservation for 14 at Ted’s Pizza was now a rain out since ½ of their seating is outdoors. Our social coordinator, Linda, quickly rang-up The Taco Stand and was able to confirm they had plenty of room. The host hotel’s shuttle bus made two trips to deliver us all to The Taco Stand which was only a couple blocks from the hotel: a short swim if you will. The Taco Stand turned out to be a great call and we had a very nice dinner that lasted just as long as the rain. Our dining companions headed back to “Clocked” for a second round of shakes and malts while Miss Debbie and I wandered back to the hotel to visit with other friends in the common areas and then retired to our room for the night.
It was another great day at The Georgia Tandem Rally!
With breakfast moved into a large banquet room that had plenty of seats and two buffets in place, the morning meal was a delightful experience. We even had a chance to visit with some friends before heading off to get ready for the 8:30am ride start.
With the triplet pretty well sorted-out after Friday’s ride I had enough time to get my GoPro cameras out but, sadly, not enough time to get them fully sorted-out before it was time to head down to the ride start. As a result, I had just one fully operational camera mounted on Miss Debbie’s helmet facing rearward as my forward-facing helmet mounted camera and Wifi receiver had minimal battery power. I suspect I must have unintentionally turned both of them on with the remote earlier in the morning. If we’d have been closer to our truck and my camera bag I would have been able to change out the battery in the camera but, alas, the ride start was about ¼ mile downhill from our truck. As a result, what I ended up with was a lot of good video footage of Lisa stoking the triplet behind Debbie and “Lisa” ultimately became the theme of my short, 1:33 video from the day’s 46 mile ride.
The ride itself was very nice and took us out along the same route we’ve used at previous GTRs. I continued to make the mistake of being one of the early tandems out of the mass start area instead of hanging back and working our way through the riders to find our “usual” riding partners from GTRs in the past and other “usual suspects” whom we usually try to spend time with both on and off the bike. As we had on Friday, we found ourselves riding with folks out of middle Florida, some of whom we’d met in the past and some who were first time tandem rally attendees. Included in the group from Florida were — Brian & Donna, Adam & Jennifer, Tom & Barb, Earle & Laura, Reg & Michelle, Bobbie & Alex, and another couple whose names I didn’t get as well as Mark & Char and Duncan & Laura from South Carolina & Denny & Stephanie from Tennessee who would all join us on Saturday and to a certain extent on Sunday — and several other folks from Georgia — John & Mitzi, Scott & Linda, Tom & Diane and someone else who I apologize for leaving out.
The ride pace was just about perfect for us; however, given Debbie and I had so few base miles I made it known we’d only be riding the 46-mile route on Saturday, not the longer options. Therefore, for the second day in a row we had to bid farewell to our Florida friends when we hit the 15-mile mark where the two longer options split from the two shorter options. Some four or five miles down the road we came to a store stop were we hoped we’d be able to “hook-up” with some of our other friends. Unfortunately, we arrived well enough ahead of them that yours truly became somewhat antsy waiting for them to mount-up for the next leg of the ride and ultimately headed out on our own.
Yes indeed, I’ve still not been able to get back into the correct ride tempo for a rally and keep finding that I’ve got us riding by ourselves even though there are another 134 tandem teams out there on the road! Now, to be fair, there are teams out on four different routes who ride at different tempos and as you do the math it becomes easy to see how even a “large group” at one of these rallies can be the exception rather than the rule, especially when there are hills early on in the rides. In our case, we rode alone for a while and I used some of that time to beat myself up for my ability to land us in no-man’s land. We eventually found ourselves rolling-up behind friends from the Tallahassee area: — Greg & Angela, Al & Heidi, Chris & Monica and Atlanta-based friends Randy & Claudia – who we joined for a while.
We rode with them for several miles and were looking forward to finishing out the day’s ride as part of their group when the triplet ( well, OK… the pilot) mis-shifted and the chain ended up getting wedged back in between the granny ring and right chain stay. I believe our friends lingered at a slower pace for a while waiting for us to recover and rejoin; however, it took me far longer than usual to unseat the chain which had bent the small chain ring as it got pressed up against the right chain stay. It was Lisa who noticed the wobble in the ring after we were underway which was good to know as that meant we could no longer use it on the steep hills we’d encounter as we rode back into Athens.
We finally caught up with our friends about ½ a mile from the lunch stop at the Georgia Museum of Art. As we entered the facility I was immediately reminded of the lunch we had at the Lake Blackshear Resort during GTR 2006 in Americus, Georgia where a lovely sandwich bar buffet was set up in a lovely large room with white table cloth covered tables and an attentive staff: oh, how sweet it is! Without a doubt, this year’s Saturday lunch was right up there with the Lake Blackshear Resort. However, this year’s lunch secured the title “best GTR lunch to date” as we had a very short ride back to the hotel vs. the long ride into a headwind that we enjoyed back in 2007!
Saturday afternoon was spent visiting with friends in and around the hospitality suite up and until it was time to head over to the Allgood bar for a pre-dinner social. We were some of the first guests to arrive at the Allgood and it was our kind of place: great bar keeper and atmosphere that quickly filled with friends and offered us a continuous stream of folks with whom we could visit.
We meandered over to the The Classic Center around 6:00pm for the GTR banquet. We shared our table with Lisa – of course – as well as Tom & Donna from Cincinnati, Ohio and Denny & Stephanie from Chattanooga, TN. One of the perks of having attended all 16 GTRs is that we tend to get first crack at the buffet line and such was the case this time: it pays to hang with one of the original teams! The dinner was very good and we enjoyed the awards and announcement portion of the program which Roger & Eve kept lively and entertaining.
The post dinner agenda called for a visit to a “dive bar” and I’m not sure what it was about Boars Head Lounge, but as soon as we entered the bar both Debbie and I looked at each other and collectively decided to pass. Nashville may have cured us of “bar hopping” at least for the near term. So, we bid farewell to the handful of friends who had gathered in the Boars Head and wandered back to the hotel to relax while I consolidated video clips from Saturday’s ride and published my 1:33” video of “Lisa” at GTR 2014:
Sunday began much the same as Saturday with a very nice breakfast buffet. Unfortunately, for the third day in a row I had us start the ride too close to the front of the pack with the usual outcome. On the bright side, I had both GoPro cameras working this time, albeit the rear-facing one wasn’t positioned quite right and included a bit too much of my helmet in the viewing area.
None-the-less, having two cameras gave me a bit more footage to play assuming we had something worthy of capturing in digital video. Of course, therein lays the problem. Having gone off the front but not being as fast as the fastest riders we found ourselves sitting in no-man’s land a few times. Good grief; you think I’d have had this figured out by now!
My stokers, Miss Debbie and Miss Lisa, made the best of it and enjoyed another day chatting with each other on the back of the triplet when there wasn’t anyone along-side to chat with. As on the previous two days, the first few miles included quite a few hills that helped to split the riders into smaller groups. We moved in and out of a few different groups between the start and the split of the 26 and 38 mile routes where, once again, we opted to go with the somewhat less demanding option.
Shortly after making the turn onto the shorter of the two route options we were “caught” by the same group of riders predominantly out of Florida who we rode with for a while on both Friday and Saturday and were able to enjoy a pretty good stretch of road with them: that made our day. However, the previous two days of riding had taken their toll on both me and Debbie and as we approached Winterville, Georgia we began to slip off the back of the stronger riders we’d been “hanging” with. We parted company and took a break at the only store stop on the route some 19 miles into the ride, once again in the hope that we’d be able to regroup with some other friends with whom we could finish our ride.
As on both previous days, while waiting for our friends to arrive and then take their breaks my legs began to squawk. Given our friends weren’t quite ready to saddle-up, we decided to head off with Team Catterall for what was a fairly uneventful 7-mile leg back into Athens. We had a nice time chatting with Charles & Kellie but it would have been nice to have a few more tandem teams around us as there were quite a few friends who we weren’t able to spend much time with.
The triplet behaved well on the final climbs back up to Athens so no real drama to report. After rolling into the hotel parking lot I let Miss Debbie and Miss Lisa disembark at the portico and went about getting the triplet stowed back on the roof of the truck for the journey home.
We were a bit torn in that we would have liked to have stayed and had lunch with “the usual suspects” after the rally, but had also been invited to a graduation party for the daughter of some very close friends that started at 2:00pm. Had we stayed in Athens for lunch I’m guessing we wouldn’t have even hit the road until 2:00pm or 2:30 so we ultimately decided to get ourselves packed up and on the road.
We said our goodbyes to Lisa, Linda, Eric and several other friends who were gathered in the parking lot as we drove off for the 2-hour drive home at a little before 11:00am. We took the slightly longer route out GA 129 to Interstate 85 so that we could avoid the traffic in Lawrenceville and that made for a very easy, uneventful drive back to the Marietta / Kennesaw area. We decided to take a slight detour and stopped at Loco Willy’s for lunch on the way home: it was a great call. We both needed some frosty refreshment and the food just hit the spot.
After getting home and unpacking the truck, we got ourselves cleaned-up and headed over to the graduation party for Sydney. That gave us a chance to visit with several friends we hadn’t seen in quite a while and to relax a bit before heading home to prepare ourselves for a return to work on Monday.
As alluded-to earlier, there was in fact plenty of digital video image capture from the ride. I made two attempts at capturing and editing the very large files from the two GoPros that ended badly when the software program I use to do the editing “choked” on the data and left me with nothing to show for my efforts. Before making a third attempt I finally accepted the fact that my meager 4 GB of RAM simply wasn’t enough for crunching the bigger video files and upgraded my MacBook Pro’s memory to 18 GB. Wow, did that make a difference!
As you might guess, after zipping through and cherry-picking 35-40 clips from six hours of digital images three times (about 30 minutes per session) I had a good case of video editor fatigue and called it “done” once I’d gotten the elapsed time down to about 2:37’. My goal is to never exceed 2:00’, but I found a pretty good sound track that seemed to make the extra 30 seconds of video go by quickly. So, with that, here’s a glimpse of what Sunday’s ride was like:
Our heartfelt thanks go out to Roger & Eve for hosting yet another outstanding Georgia Tandem Rally and congrats to Elliott on his graduation from UGA. You can bet your boots we’ll continue to uphold our status as “originals” as we look forward to attending our 17th GTR next year.
We also want to extend our thanks to our many friends – long time and those who we met at GTR – who we had a chance to visit with, especially our guest stoker Lisa; she’s amazing!!!
Until next time….