With less than a week until my monolithic ride from Spartanburg to Charleston, I needed some easy miles this weekend. I found that in the Carolina Cyclers‘ Rose Hill ride. Although, as always, things are never as easy as they seem.
It was a perfect day for cycling. The temperature was in the lower 60s with a cool breeze in the morning when we left Newberry, SC, but soon it turned up and we had gorgeous upper 60s to 70s temperatures all day. The route was from Newberry up north above the Whitmire area where we would congregate at Rose Hill Plantation. From there we would dine on a Mexican lunch, courtesy of Alice Koss, and then return to Newberry. The total would be around 66-67 miles.
The X-Factor of this ride was John “Bullet Train” Henderson. He is an accomplished rider with years and years of experience, but a shoulder injury forced him off road bikes and this past summer he splurged for a carbon recumbent. He tears up downhills and flats. On my own without drafting, I can sometimes ride around 25 mph on flats or slight downhills. He manages just shy of 30 mph on the flats and can easily hit mid-30s on moderate declines. We had a handful of riders in a front group of sorts, usually on John’s wheel as long as we could keep up.
As we entered Sumter National Forest, we left civilization. It was a scenic route with almost constant tree cover as we took the roads less traveled. There were only a few breaks from the forest, and usually that was spacious farmland without a soul in sight.
I stuck on John’s wheel as much as possible. He would slow down on the hills, so I would usually climb at my own pace and then latch back on as he came around. As we came closer to Rose Hill, the course was more rolling with more frequent climbs and that broke us up. We turned onto Eaves Road, which was almost a one-lane road enshrouded in trees. Here is where we goofed a bit. We missed a turn, but fortunately second-guessed ourselves within a half-mile. I turned around to scout and found John and Eddie Magic waiting there at the intersection. We managed an extra mile out of it.
We entered Rose Hill Plantation and gorged ourselves with delicious tacos, chips and dip, and ice-cold Coca Cola. Knowing that store stops were scarce, I went a little overboard. I had two overloaded tacos and some additional chips and dip. I was worried about making myself sick, but frankly, I was hungry and willing to take the risk. Fortunately the stomach pings kept to a minimum the rest of the way back.
Lunch was nice and relaxing. We rested, visiting with each other and having good conversation. We took a tour of the exterior of the house, surveyed the grounds, checked out the walnut trees that yielded nuts that more closely resembled tennis balls, and found the lavatory before slowly and reluctantly getting our bikes back on the road.
There were a few climbs as we left Rose Hill, one of which was decent sized and slowed us down. The course was mostly rolling, which meant I stayed on John’s wheel as much as possible. I could usually anticipate him coming up a hill. I would always be a little bit ahead, but knew when the climb crested that he could be coming along the side anytime. When I saw him coming I would gradually pick up speed and latch on as he passed. If I was going too slow, he would be long gone in an instant.
I was mostly successful in staying with John until around mile. We had a headwind and that takes a toll even when drafting. I was also simply getting tired. Staying on John’s wheel is no easy feat. I would have to pedal at a higher gear and cadence, and my heart rate would be at its highest in his draft, sometimes as high as 160-170 on a flat or descent. I was resting on the climbs, but even going slowly, my rate would recover to only 140-150 beats at the lowest.
I let up for the last ten miles or so. Sometimes I would stay with with John if I was feeling strong for short sprints, but mostly let him go. There were enough rolling hills that he and the rest of the group were never too far in front or behind.
We arrived back at Newberry in the early afternoon, with plenty of time for me continue stuffing my face and catch some football.