I remember when I first set foot into Disney World. It wasn’t the elaborate theme parks that immediately caught my eye. It was the distinct attention to detail. Once within the Disney compound, the landscape was carefully manicured, everything seemed clean, and it felt like a place of paradise. Every step beyond that enhanced the experience. Even when doing nothing, it was an escape just by being inside this carefully orchestrated world that by contrast, was so foreign to the one in which we live.
I found myself thinking about Disney often when riding in the Jackson Brevet, at least in terms of putting on a ride. While riding in the middle of nowhere Georgia, you are on a route that was meticulously planned by Robert W to honor his wife Kelly by raising money for aplastic anemia research. The markings are ever-present. The rest stops are fun and vibrant. The pre-ride announcements are actually engaging, and at times, moving. Even with a last minute detour, the mileage was exact — a rarity in the world of charity rides. This was his baby, and it showed while we punished ourselves by riding 102 miles on a hot day.
The ride was released in stages, but Jack and I were fortunate enough to participate in the lead out group. This was just a few riders that followed Robert, Kelly, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, and others. We rode slowly, waving to the Braselton locals who came out to see us off. It was a celebratory way to start the ride. After settling in with the peleton and riding a few miles, Robert showed up at an intersection to high five riders as they pass by. Of all the rides in which I’ve participated, this one had the most involvement from its host. And that’s a good thing.
The riders were divided into three pace groups: 20+, 16-19, or anything below. We rode at the front of the 16-19 crowd, not wanting to push too hard, but ended up settling in with the 20+ crowd.
We were pleased to join a group being paced by the Sky Blue team. They were strong riders, who were clearly riding below their ability in order to pull the group. We were glad to have them, and the first 40 or so miles whirred by seemingly without effort. There were plenty of hills, but they were not the punishing variety that I am used to. The grades were sometimes 1-3%, which is barely noticeable in the right group. I looked down at my Garmin at one point, and found myself surprised that we had climbed so much.
One of the things I loved about this ride was the rest stop contest. Whoever had the most decorative rest stop would win a prize. The volunteers took it a step further by acting out their theme. There was a rock n’ roll stop where a guy was dressed up like a rock star (was it Elvis? Jimi Hendrix?). The winning rest stop was a version of the Wizard of Oz. They had people everywhere dressed up in Oz themed costumes, even a scarecrow. A dog wandered onto the “set” and they screamed that they finally had their Toto! When you’re pushing yourself to your physical limits, it’s nice to have something fun and distracting, and this really added to the ride experience.
The roads were terrific. We were far out in the country, with hardly any traffic, and they were almost always smooth as silk. That’s probably a credit to Georgia DOT as much as it is the guy who chose the route. We need to put some of them to work in the Carolinas!
Around mile 60, things started to get difficult. The sun was out in full force, and the temperature was slowly rising. It didn’t help that the hills started to have more bite, or maybe it just felt that way. We were climbing a lot, and with each hill, it was becoming tougher to keep up with my pacemakers.
Heat has never been kind to me, and we rarely had any shade on this route. I was already cracking by mile 70. We hit a steep hill shortly afterward. The initial pitch wasn’t long, maybe a quarter mile or so, but it reached a 13-14% grade that hurt. That was it for me and the group. I simply couldn’t handle such a pace in these conditions.
I felt myself in cramp territory, which is a rarity for me. I muscled it out to the next rest stop. Their theme was the famous Varsity restaurant. They didn’t have the grease, but they DID have pickles. Those hit the spot, and got me fresh again. Jack and I waited for the next group.
I was feeling rejuvenated, ready to go again, and stuck with this group another 10 or so miles. Then the hills struck again. A guy in front of me fell back with debilitating cramps. I slowed to make sure he was alright, which was just long enough to let the group go. Sigh, I wasn’t catching them again. As the temperature rose even further, it wouldn’t matter.
As we approached the last dozen miles, I was in no mans land. Occasionally I was able to draft off a larger fellow who called himself Diesel, but he couldn’t stay with me on the hills. I limped to the finish line, pleased to complete my third century in an injury-ridden year, but still exhausted and spent.
Again, I cannot thank the organizers enough. Jack and I agreed that this was logistically the best ride we had ever been on. In some ways, we felt spoiled out there. We just had to ride our bikes and they did everything else. The volunteers were terrific, and made a tough day a lot easier. We’ll be back.
Strava Link (inaccurate elevation, should be around 5k)