Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hospitality Highway Century: We Closed Georgia 400!

Earlier this month I went on my second charity ride. This time I rode my recently acquired Cannondale Synapse road bike. The two main draws for this ride were: local (originating in nearby Roswell) and the first three miles of the route were on a limited access freeway. Yes, the local officials actually closed down Georgia 400 so that we could ride on it.

For this ride there were 4 route options: 8, 15, 61, and 100 miles. I chose to do the 61 mile route, partly because I have done 50 in the past and partly because the route had some familiar territory on it (within about 3 miles of our house on roads that I travel frequently).

The ride was scheduled to start at 6:30 AM, and I arrived early at around 5:30. I had heard that over 1000 riders signed up for the ride and I expected parking to be a problem. The final count for the ride was 1,500 riders and the parking lot was full by 5:45. We mounted up and assembled in front of a former CompUSA store, and at 6:15 we rolled out. First we turned on to Holcomb Bridge road. It was blocked in both directions and we were placed on the bridge over 400 to wait for the highway to be shut down. Once the shutdown was complete we rolled down the ramp and rode. What a blast! There were photographers overhead in a "cherry picker" and on the bridges. The only camera I had with me was my cell phone, so the pictures aren't that great. But it gives you a feel for the crowd.

The entire first segment was police directed. Intersections and roads were closed for us. We even got our own lane on Highway 9 to cross the Chattahoochee river. There were also some people sitting on the side of the road in one of the subdivisions encouraging the riders with signs, cowbells, clapping, and cheering. And there were some accidents. I heard at least two crashes and I suspect there were more. After the first rest stop the crowd spread out and thinned out.

The course was very well marked. Cue sheets were available ahead of time. I printed and laminated one to take with me. There were typically three signs at every turn: one just before, one at the turn, and one just after, and there were arrows spraypainted on the street. Unfortunately on two of the turns the signs had disappeared (non-riding locals probably swiped them because they didn't like them). This caused some serious confusion at those two turns. That's when the cue sheet was helpful to verify the turn.

One leg went through a town called Mountain Park. After passing the lake there was a monster hill that even the fit riders had to struggle to get up. From Mountain Park we crossed Highway 92 and entered (I think) Steeple Run where there were more tough hills. The rest stop was a welcome relief. I overheard one cyclist ask for the SAG wagon to take his riding partners back to parking. They couldn't make it any further.

The route went through some beautiful areas (I've never seen houses that big). Most of the roads had light car traffic. And in many of the neighborhoods there were people standing in their front yards encouraging the riders. One stretch went right through old town Roswell (along Canton Street). There was a lot of car and pedestrian traffic for that short distance, but riding through there was lots of fun. The last stretch was along the Chattahoochee River. Nice and flat and a welcome relief from all the hills.

I heard other folks say it was the toughest charity ride they have ever done. I can't compare as it is only my second. But it sure did me in! It chewed me up and spit me out like last week's bad meat. By the last 10 miles I had nothing left for any kind of climbing at all. I rode 61 miles in 4 hours and 50 minutes for an average speed of 12.6 mph. That's way below my typical speed, due to the several uphills I had to walk.

But the best part of the ride was the very end. As I pulled on to the last street which led up to the parking lot I saw my beautiful wife standing on the sidewalk cheering me on!

The organizers are already talking about next year. I hope that by then my riding will have improved enough that I can make it up the hills, or maybe that the organizers will find an easier route.

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