Simply one of the more enjoyable small rallies we’ve been to.
Now, I’m hardly immune to irrational exuberance and, to be fair, a tinge of IE could have flowed into our impressions and remembrances of our weekend in Huntsville, Alabama, on Saturday and Sunday. On the other hand, we actually missed easily ½ of the 2016 ATW since we delayed our original planned arrival from Thursday evening to Saturday morning. By not arriving on Thursday afternoon we did not get to attend a reception that was held at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration at the United States Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville. The Davidson Center is built around the Smithsonian Museum’s Saturn V rocket, making for a spectacular meeting venue.
We also missed-out on Friday’s ride and the attendant social activities that take place during the ride, at lunch, dinner and then afterwards back at the host hotel. Most importantly, we missed out on getting a good night’s rest at the hotel and waking up fresh and ready to go for Saturday’s ride. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy Saturday’s ride, but being fresh and well-rested was certainly not the case.
No, instead of following our original plan and arriving for ATW on Thursday evening, we modified our weekend plans to accommodate a special celebration of Debbie’s birthday three days early on Friday night with some friends at a local nightclub. Therefore, we didn’t make it home until around 11:30pm on Friday night after a good 5 hours of merriment & dancing and even then, didn’t really fall off to sleep until nearly 1:00am. So, when the alarm went off shortly after 5:00am we up and going, but not necessarily well-rested. Moreover, we then spent the next three hours in the truck driving the 190 miles over to Huntsville, Alabama, so we’d arrive 30 minutes before ATW’s Saturday mass start for the 50 or 60-mile ride options.
Despite not being all that well-rested – well OK, I only get about 4-5 hours of sleep on a normal night, it was Debbie who was truly at a deficit — I think we were both pretty perky and able to get ourselves to the rider’s meeting on time to join the 30 or so other couples for the mass start of the ride.
Regarding the number of attendees, one of the things we’ve always enjoyed about the Alabama Tandem Weekend is the somewhat smaller number of teams it draws, with usually not more than 40 couples being the norm. We began attending the ATW events back in 1998 at Fairhope, Alabama. That was our first tandem rally and it was spectacular. In subsequent years ATWs were hosted by George & Judy Bacon at the Auburn University campus in Auburn, Alabama: George’s alma mater. It eventually moved to George and Judy’s home town near Pell, Alabama, in the early 2000’s and then moved around a bit, stalled for a year or so and was then resurrected by folks down in southeast Alabama. The move up to Huntsville for 2016 was a pleasant surprise as we’d always wanted to ride in that part of Alabama, and I heard said it may return there again next year which would be fine by us! Again, we just love the smaller size events like ATW and we especially like the no-frills / no registration fee model! While the pay-to-play rallies are also great in their own right, the added structure seems to compel us to follow a schedule when we’re ostensibly on vacation: it’s not the ideal mix but we’re adaptable. However, given our druthers, we really like the ala carte nature and flexibility of the no frills events and, again, the smaller number of attendees.
After rolling into the parking lot, Debbie headed into the hotel to fill water bottles while I unloaded our cycling gear bag and pulled the tandem out of the truck. As I was putting air into the tires I noticed the rear tire looked more squared-off than I remembered and decided I’d do well to check the tread for any places where the chord might be peeking through. Son-of-a-gun, I found just that. Fortunately, I tend to carry a spare tire in my tool box and I usually take my tool box to tandem rallies, so without too much delay I had the rear tire changed and ready to roll.
We found quite a few friends on hand at the ride start; perhaps ½ of the teams were folks whom we’ve met and ridden with for over 15 years: Roger & Eve, Denny & Stephanie, John & Mitzi, Peter & Margaret, Paul & Jody, Ron & Shari, Jose & Sherry, Steve & Eva, Charles & Kelly (our hosts), Dennis & Peggy, Larry & Martha, Bob & Patti, Lonnie & Carol and several others whose names escape me as I’m really bad with names.
I should probably make mention this was Debbie’s second chance to wear her Sheila Moon bolero with her sleeveless jerseys, noting in the past she’d have to wear a short-sleeve jersey with arm warmers. The latter worked fine until the temps would warm up and she’d have to roll-up her sleeves to mitigate the farmer/cyclist tan lines on her upper arms. The bolero + sleeveless was a home run; she’s really happy with it.
We spent the majority of our on-bike time riding with Roger & Eve, Denny & Stephanie, John & Mitzi, and Peter & Margaret on Saturday’s 50-mile route.
The route itself was fairly flat and took us out through a subdivision and the main four-lane to the east of town before putting us out on the more rural, tertiary roads for the balance of our ride. Our host hotel was located in an area on the outskirts of Huntsville called Hampton Cove Hampton Cove nestled in the foothills and valleys of North Alabama’s Cumberland Plateau. Therefore, we were typically surrounded by beautiful hills on roads with light traffic and what I’ll call very tolerant motorists: that’s a good thing. While it would be nice to have motorists around you who welcomed cyclists, I’ll always settle for respectful motorists who tolerate and yield way for cyclists as they quietly share the road.
Saturday’s 50-mile route took us out to the Guntersville Dam on the Tennessee River and then back on something of a lollipop loop. It was a spirited ride at times going out, but coming back we discovered the source of the spirit was a strong tailwind which was now a daunting headwind as we rode back north towards our host hotel. Again, we were truly fortunate to have a well-matched and well-behaved group of friends to ride and socialize with on our pre-lunch time ride.
As we got close to the hotel a couple of our friends dropped off to have lunch at a small café which was given a strong recommendation by Charles and others from the local area. They later reported having a wonderful lunch. Debbie and I opted to return to the hotel so we could get checked into and settled in our room and then headed off to find a Subway, one of our favorite post-ride lunchtime meals when we are cycling or traveling. The closest one to the hotel was in the local Walmart; that worked just fine as Debbie wanted to get some SmartWater while we were out. We did our usual at Subway and split a 12” chicken sub and it hit the spot. Back at the hotel we finally took a few minutes to relax and recharge our batteries before getting dressed for dinner.
We joined what appeared to be most of the folks who were attending the rally for dinner at the Yellow Hammer brewery and its partner business, the Earth & Stone Wood-Fire Pizza parlor, about a 20 minute drive from the hotel. The brewery proper was a wonderful structure with a spectacular setting alongside a large green space where kids played while their parents relaxed. Their craft beers were quite tasty and for dinner Debbie and I split some Chipotle humus & pita chips, a Caesar salad and small pizza. We eventually followed that up with a big slice of no-bake cheese cake that we shared with friends. We spent a good bit of our time visiting with Roger & Eve and several of the other Georgia guests at ATW.
After running a short errand we headed back to the hotel and called it a night, far earlier than normal. We both needed the rest: I was falling asleep just sitting in the lobby. Or, was that before dinner??? Yeah, I think I was that tired.
We were still on Eastern time so it was not a problem to wake up early for breakfast ahead of our 8:15am rider’s meeting. We grabbed some breakfast in the Hampton’s lobby – I went with the big old Belgian waffle and Debbie opted for oatmeal – and then got ourselves ready for a somewhat cool-feeling morning ride start.
It was another bolero morning as we donned our newest and most obnoxious jersey’s for Sunday’s ride: I’m pretty sure these are now my favorites!
Sunday’s ride options were 24-miles and 39-miles and with the loss of an hour heading back to Atlanta we decided the shorter distance would be our best bet. With any luck that would put us at home by 2:00pm.
Our riding companions included our friends from Atlanta — Roger & Eve, John & Mitzi — as well as Denny & Stephanie from Chattanooga and somewhere along the way we also collected Bob & Patti from Columbus, Ohio. The route took us out along the foothills to the east of our hotel and it eventually took us south and east to some of the same roads that we enjoyed on Sunday.
I will say, I was reminded of how fortunate we are to have incredibly smooth and well-maintained roads back on our home turf. I’m often asked how we can use such fairly narrow, high-pressure tires on our tandem and must always caution folks that we’re blessed with wonderful roads. But, what I fail to do is to heed my own advise and switch out our narrow tires for ones with a bit more volume when we head out for these types of events. While Texas and Virgina are probably tied for having some of the roughest roads we’ve encountered during tandem rallies, Alabama remains a close third and this weekend’s roads were no exception. Again, I look to myself when it comes time to assign blame for not having the right tires for less than billiard table smooth roads!
As was the case on Saturday, there was an abundance of beautiful landscape to enjoy while we pedaled along the secondary, rural roads. Unlike Saturday, we did not have to content with strong headwinds on our ride back to the hotel which was a welcome experience.
I believe we may have rolled into the hotel parking lot around 9:45am. Debbie and I both had a moment when we were about to put the tandem in the truck, climb in and drive on home — forgetting we were still checked-in to a hotel with our bags up in the room! I didn’t take us long to pack-up and check-out, such that we were on the road by 10:15am Central time, putting us back at home at 2:00pm sharp.
As noted in my earlier blog entry that covered the entire weekend, we skipped a lunch stop along the way as Debbie was craving a homemade pizza. So, we were no sooner in the door than I was throwing a pie into the oven and also getting to work on thawing out wings and cutting potatoes into string fries for dinner.
Anyway, we were both really glad that we’d make a personal commitment to get over to the Alabama Tandem Weekend this year, as we definitely needed to add-back more tandem cycling to our social calendar and fitness regime. We truly enjoy getting out and riding with other tandem teams and are very much looking forward to the upcoming Georgia Tandem Rally in May and the Southern Tandem Rally in October. Who knows, perhaps we’ll figure out how to squeeze in another rally somewhere. Nah, probably not this year… but maybe next.