Organized chaos in front of SBC. Sign in, stash the bag, boggle at the numbers--how we gonna get all these bikes home? "Wow, you're riding that bike?" "Hey, that's a clever way to rig that!" "Ouch, a fixie?" "Hey, don't you have any lights?"
"Hey, who turned on the lights?" Our own nuclear powered night light, 367k miles away, right on schedule. We never lost sight of it until it went down after dawn.
Astonishment and applause at the courage resurgent of the Euro-wannabee, who found the last-minute mojo to stoke a tandem.
Four undergrads emerging from Dave's: "Oh, you guys are so cool...can we take your picture? I mean, can we be in it with you? This is so cool, you guys are awesome, we love cyclists." And probably anything else that moved, drunk as they were...
A ceremonial lap and head count around Court Square--25 souls in motion. (photo Michael Wiebe-Johnson)
HIDS off the front, trailing streams of luminescent blinkies, stretched out along damp roads. It's real!
"Hey, look back there--that tandem is flying!" Moments later--"Yeah, looks like they flew right past the turn. Well, there's no catching 'em now!" But we would see them again shortly, so many are the alternate highways and byways and backways of Rockingham.
Riding through a crowd of Mennonite girls walking down Mole Hill, one with a boom box balanced on her shoulder. Children silhoutted in a doorway, watching us pass in the night. Over the top, and down to our first gravel road. More to come.
Where are all the cars, anyway?
Roads drying up. Miles ticking by. It's already 1:30? We've already ridden 45 miles? We're flying! Regrouping periodically, in Briery Branch then Stokesville. Interrupting a bear-hunting convention--fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth vehicles of the night, in the space of two minutes.
It's one thing to climb a gravel road in the dark; it's another to descend with dodgy lights. "Hey, Matthew, is there anything dangerous out there?" No, take it off the front, brother--but watch out for those four deer standing right there who would cheerfully put you in the ditch!
West Augusta sees David and the van for the first time, a welcome sight. Headcounts--all present. Will Team Welch get their rattletrap tandem functional in time? Deerfield Valley Road beckons, rest stop ahead--all restraint is abandoned, it's only 20 miles to the rest stop, at this rate we'll be there in 45 minutes.
Did I mention the fog? Moon high in the sky, torches on helmets, all light mocked the invisibility of the road under blankets of vapor. But it wasn't enough to discourage a canny finger of brightness picking out the Deerfield city limit sign in time to light it up (so to speak). Not the time to be sleeping!
Rest stop, finally. People everywhere. No one wet, everyone damp--"what are you wearing? I can't decide what to put on..." Gonna use the backdoor route? Five do, wisely choosing challenge in proportion.
Up the Draft, down to the Cowpasture...now the climbing starts. Williamsville, Bullpasture Gorge, Flood--just trying to keep the lights of the next person in sight, so as to avoid having to pull out the map and think, a painful thought at this hour of the morning. Will be light in two hours...will this climb ever end?
Seven false summits, then it seems to be backing off...if it's mile 88, and it's 13 miles from Rt 39 to Douthat, and it's 110 miles total, then does the road have time to go up anymore before we start descending? How did it get so cold all the sudden, and where is everyone? How did a gravel road get to be so smooth?
Dawn arrives, warmth restores a smidgen of energy, the road into Douthat goes on forever. But there's breakfast at the end...roll up, roll down, now we're in the Park, there's the lake, where's the restaurant?
I see BIG RED!!! How many bikes can that thing hold, anyway?
If you can wait long enough for the slowest kitchen in the world, you can have anything you want to eat, and three beers as well.
But nothin's gonna ease that sleepy ride home. Rumor has it someone in one vehicle changed drivers while driving. Would like to have seen that, but we were in the Candlepower
and David piloted with the discipline of Kirk. Solid work, narry a nod (at least while I was awake)!
25 souls, 110 miles, moon the whole time, no accidents, three flats and a broken spoke. If you didn't have fun, you didn't drink enough Sparks. Thanks to all who organized, supported, and attended--a spontaneous manifestation of life, spoken in the language of the bike. Keep an ear out, we'll do it again next year!