Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cape Fear Adventure - April 14th - 19th

Wow - what a crazy week of weather. Thankfully, I made through all of it safe and sound.

Of all the rides I seem to do, it is this one that I look most forward to every year. Probably because it was the 2008 Cape Fear Rally that I first tried long distance endurance riding.

After getting the rally book on Wednesday evening and figuring out what I could or should attempt given the anticipated weather, I headed up to Savannah, TN on Thursday morning. The first stop was in
Cedartown, GA to capture another picture for the Lions Club Tour of Georgia. Next, I was completely taken back at the beauty found in northern Alabama (not so much Muscle Shores or Florence) but the rest of the area was really beautiful and easy to ride in. I checked in at the Quality Inn shortly before 3 p.m. and had to return some phone calls and other work related tasks before talking to a number of other riders and continue to tweak my riding plans.

Dinner was at the Catfish Hotel near the Shiloh Battlefield. About 25 of the riders showed up and it was a good time. I changed my route again (deciding to go for the Meridian bonus after all). I make my reservation for a hotel in Pooler, GA for Friday night and then crash for the night. I awoke at 7 a.m. to the sounds of weather sirens blaring. It was not going to be a good day. I moved on to the Hotel lobby to mingle with the other riders. One thing for certain, most (if not all) of the
LD riders really do look after one another if asked and when necessary. There was a lot of anxiety in the breakfast area and most were willing to share their thoughts and perspectives as to what route might be the best to get around (and through) this storm. All of the talk reassured me that staying in Mississippi was going to be the right move.

After breakfast, I did some last minute routing against the weather channel's
forecast and decided to make a beeline for Meridian. My thought was if I could get south I would be below the tail of the storm and should have a ride into Wilmington without storms - or at least until late Saturday morning. So a few minutes after 9:30 a.m., I packed up, checked out and headed out to a gas station to get the starting receipt. About 20 of us were at a BP and in the excitement of the start, I forgot to get gas and just got a starting receipt for a bottle of water (or "grocery" as printed on the receipt) with a starting time of 9:59 a.m. CDT - meaning at 2:59 p.m. EDT I needed to be in Wilmington - about 1200 miles down the way. I headed due west on US 64 to US 45 (even though Ms. Garmin wanted me to do something slightly different) but I figured I needed to just get out of town and due west was the best direction based on what the skies were looking like.

Shortly after crossing the Mississippi state line, I realized that I didn't get gas since pulling into town yesterday afternoon so I don't have enough to get to Meridian without stopping. Nuts. So down US 45 I head. The weather was actually pretty decent - a little wind but no rain until I got to
Tupelo (about 90 miles into the ride). About that time, my body was done with the morning coffee and orange juice so I figured that I might as well kill two birds with one stone. So I stopped at Shannon, MS at 11:29 a.m. I pull up to the Texaco and no one is there except for a guy cooking chicken in the parking lot and the store clerk. I go in and use the restroom and come out to (seriously) 10 cars that had pulled up to the station to get a chicken lunch. It appears that he starts selling at 11:30 (not a minute sooner) and people come out of the woodwork for his chicken (it did smell good). Anyway, I topped off the gas tank and head out. The weather has definitely turned and I am riding south in a fairly steady rain now and directly into a storm.

Just before I get to West Point, MS (about mile 135), I really start getting uneasy about being on the bike- the wind has picked up, the rain hasn't slowed, I'm getting cold, and it is getting dark - no- not dark, the sky is actually becoming void of light as if all light is being sucked out of the clouds. I get just inside the city limits and there is a Shell station on my right, I decide to play it safe and pull in. I barely get under the canopy when the tornado sirens start going off and buckets of rain start coming straight down. I put my heated vest on and start waiting out the storm. Over at the next pump I notice a bike, but didn't think much of it until Barbara notices me and calls me over. Shortly after Rick comes out of the store to give Barbara and me a weather update. It appears that the real nasty stuff is going to the north of town (we can visually confirm that from the gas station) and if we wanted to make a run for it the south appears to be okay. So once the rain subsides a little, we take off. Fortunately, that is the last of the really bad weather.

The remaining 100 miles to Meridian are (comparably) uneventful. We ride in and out of rain and wind but nothing is too bad. Just before Meridian I decide to part ways with Rick and Barbara and take off ahead of them. That was short lived because they had the fastest gas stop in Meridian and get in after me yet out before me. Time to head west. I decide to pass over the Exell's Fish Camp (first of my poor point shedding mistakes) and head straight to the Old Alabama capital site.

For the next hour and half, it is a constant cat and mouse game with the rain showers - nothing serious, but I would always seem to find a way to ride into a stray shower when the rest of the sky looked promising as I head into the former capital site. The area,
Cahaba (mile 340), is really neat in a ghost towny way. But it is an easy ride in, snap the picture of the stone marker, and head back out. There are about 6 other riders at the site at the same time. I always enjoy seeing others while picking up boni, if nothing else, it reassures me that the route that I chose seems to be attractive to others as well. As I pull into Selma, I pick up a few other riders and tag along with them through Selma, across I-65, Luvrene, Brantley for gas, and then into Enterprise.

While riding through
Luvrene, I fall about 1000 feet behind the other riders and gun it shortly before leaving the city limits to catch up trailing right behind a white sedan. Of course right at the city limits sign is a cop running radar, thinking that I am busted, I fall in line with a number of vehicles and watch the cop come up the line wondering which vehicle he is going to signal over. He gets right in front of me and directly behind the white sedan when he turns on his lights. I just maintain the same pace watching to see if he is motioning my direction, thankfully, he doesn't and just pulls over the white sedan. So thank you officer.

Enterprise, AL (mile 475) is home to the Boll Weevil monument in the middle of town. I (along with about a dozen riders now) pull in at about the same time and take the required picture with our flags. I can't imagine what all of the locals were thinking watching the show. As we head out of town, the group of riders seems to start breaking up, some are heading north towards some of the lower
Georgia point locations (but more numerous), while some continue east towards Bainbridge.

The ride over to
Bainbridge occurs during the time of the day that I absolutely love to ride - about 90 minutes before sunset. The air is beginning to take on the coolness of the night air and the angle of the sun illuminates the countryside in a really unique way. The ride over on US 84 is mostly a four lane highway with ample opportunities to pass. I pull into the BP Bainbridge gas station (mile 560) just after dusk, get the receipt that I need and head back on the road. But now it is decision time, do I stay on US84 and head over to Saint Simons or cut up and over through Georgia to hit a bonus or two before getting into Savannah Georgia? I am beginning to feel the fatigue of the stress the first three hours of the ride caused to set in, but think I can make it over to the island. So, I shed the two point bonus locations (821 in Vienna and 685 in Vidalia) in favor of the 1415 points in St. Simons. Off I go. Yeah, I realize now that 1415 is actually less than the 1506 these two would have provided. A classic simple stupid mistake you seem to make on these rides.

Okay, Ms.
Garmin tells me it is 3 plus hours to St. Simons, but it really doesn't sink in until I get about half way there. It is a long, long way in the early evening and night hours. Still I just pluck off the miles one at a time. But by the time I reach Waycross, I know that hitting St. Simons and then up 95 is going to be too much for me. Damn, why did I reserve and pay for that room in Pooler before starting this Rally? Even under the most ideal of conditions, it was the questionable place to stop and now it's just plain wrong. I still like the idea of reserving a room before hand since it gives me a place to shoot for when I start getting tired and it is nice to know that a room is waiting for me when I pull up (good thing too in this case since everything in Pooler was sold out by the time I pulled up at 1:30 a.m.). However, with the room being where it is and the amount of time it will take to get to the end of the island for the bonus, I know I will not make it safely. So I have to shed the St. Simons bonus. Therefore, right before I get close to Brunswick, I detour up towards Darien and I-95.

It is a quick 60 minute ride (including a gas stop) from
Darien up to Savannah to get the receipt I need. Luckily the station that I stop in Savannah has a good receipt and rings up the bottle of water that I bought as "grocery" as well. Therefore, I have matching receipts and 4,250 points. Though by the look I got from the clerk, she was taken back why I wanted/needed a receipt for a 99 cent bottle of water. The next exit up 95 is for Pooler and my hotel room (mile 822). I stop at the convenience store next door to the hotel and grab a banana and container of milk to officially document the start of my rest period. I ride over to the hotel and check - in. I actually enjoy watching the expressions of the clerks when I tell them I need a wake-up call in about 4 hours after checking in. Yeah, the rules say you only need to stop for 3 hours, but I know my body and it needs more, so I am more than willing to get an extra hour. Yeah, I will probably lose another bonus or two, but I wasn't going to win this thing anyway.

The wake-up call comes at 5:45 and I hop into the shower and then back on the bike. I am pulling out of the convenience store at 6:10 a.m. heading towards the Old Sheldon Church. It will be an easy stop for me since my former in-laws once lived less than a mile from the site and I visited it several times over the years. As I ride up, I quickly scan other bonus locations in the area as an attempt to salvage some of the lost opportunities from last night. Once I pass the exit that I would need to take, I notice the St. Helena Island bonus - shoot I could have got that one and then the Old Church without loosing much time if I noticed it about 5 minutes earlier, but the way the rivers and inlets carve their ways into the low country of South Carolina the next exit up 95 would require way too much back tracking so I decide to head directly to the Church (mile 875). The rules state you could not submit a picture until after 7:00 a.m., so I make sure that the picture is taken at 7:02 a.m. to be sure - easy 488 points.

After the church, it is over to the Isaac Hayes burial site. Heck, I didn't even know he was dead (Ed's note: I have recently been informed that he did in fact die in 2008 - RIP) much less that he was from South Carolina. I ride down the sandy dirt road to the historical marker and find out that it is Isaac Hayne from colonial times (mile 902). Reading comprehension is everything in these rallies. I come to find that I luck out with the road condition for this bonus, it typically would not be advisable to try it in a C-14 after the rain that we had. But it wasn't too bad - soft in places, but I never felt like the bike was getting away from me.

Next was a couple of stops around Charleston. Typically, I shy away from Charleston due to the traffic, but it is only 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and I think I can get both of them by 9
ish. So I head into the city. Both (a cow advertising a dairy - mile 933 and the National Park Service sign for Fort Moultrie - mile 946) prove to be easy boni to pick up in very light traffic. They were preparing for a civil war reenactment at the Fort and I was quite the spectacle riding in taking the picture and riding off while a dozen of Union forces were standing around. I guess we all have our own ways to burn our free time. Looking up at the sky, I wonder if I am going to stay out of the weather today. It is evident that the area has had some showers already this morning, but I seem to be about 15 minutes behind them. Not going to complain.

Upon leaving the Charleston area, I hit a lost sea memorial just off US 17 (mile 984) before visiting an old church in
Bucksville, SC just outside of Conway (mile 1037). Before getting to the Church, I do a little on the bike version of the "happy dance" near Georgetown when I cross the 1,000 mile mark 23 hours into the ride. Although it may not seem to be that big of an accomplishment on these rallies since almost everyone does it, I still find joy in the fact that I have ridden 1,000 miles in less than 24 hours every time I do it. Checking the clock, I see that I should have plenty of time to make the 1 p.m. Southport ferry (current ETA is 12:15 p.m.) so I call Mom to see if she wanted to meet me at the front gate of St. James since I would be literally driving by at noon and had a couple of minutes to spare. She says sure and offered to bring a sandwich to eat on the ferry - great news since I am starving - jerky and granola for 24 hours is beginning to get really old. However, as I get close to St. James on 211, the road is closed due to an accident. We are rerouted over the new Oak Island bridge and through Oak Island before coming back into Southport. I call Mom and let her know of the situation (she noticed that no vehicles were coming from that direction while she was waiting) - she offers to drive down 211 to meet me at McDonalds, I decline - but she does anyway but stupid me doesn't stop and just wave as I ride by - too bad she said that sandwich was really good.

I arrive at the ferry terminal at 12:39 p.m. (mile 1120) and am the first bike in line. Within 10 minutes about 12 of us show up to score the 3750 point ferry ride bonus. Although I have taken the ferry countless times, it is the first time while on the bike. Didn't really notice much of a difference in the voyage - they load us up last and we are under the tunnel which means we are one of the first ones off. A number of us lead the pack of riders through the beach towns south of Wilmington and over the draw bridge to get over to see the special guest at the Battleship and the necessary 2860 points.

I pull in to the Battleship at 2:01 p.m. (mile 1145) and meet Bob Higdon. Since it is an easy ride to the hotel from here and I don't have to be there until 2:59 p.m., I linger longer than I normally do at bonus spots and talk to Bob and watch some of the riders arrive for the picture I find Bob to be a really pleasant and funny fellow and enjoy the show.

I take off and head back over the Cape Fear river to head to the hotel and grab a six pack for the final bonus. Coming up onto the bridge, I am completely taken back by the blast of wind coming down the river and the fact that it truly feels like it could blow me over (or at least into the parapet wall). Thankfully, I make it over the bridge and head towards the hotel. I stop for the beer and the clerk comments that she knows where the party is going to be tonight. She presents me the receipt as soon as I pay for the beer. I take it I am not the first rider she has seen this afternoon.

I pull into the hotel parking lot at 2:31 p.m. (with 28 minutes to spare) and about 1160 miles on the odometer. Overall, I am very pleased with the ride.

Scoring is uneventful for me. I enjoy hearing all of the stories that many riders tell of loosing points at the scoring table, but I have found the process to be fairly straight forward as long as you stay organized. The one key rule that I follow is that I never do any of the paperwork while on the bike. I keep a running log with me with all of the necessary information, but I don't actually fill out any of the paperwork until I get a shower and sit down at the table in the scoring room. Adding up the points, I find myself pleasantly surprised that I have 37,703 - which should mean a solid middle of the pack finish. I will admit while I was missing some stops that I should have planned better for, I had visions of finishing at the bottom. At the
banquet, I find that score means 17th place finish. I can live with that.

The banquet was fun as always. I think we are all so starved that we will eat anything that is placed in front of us. But Jim and the rest of the Rally
Krewe always do a really good job with getting barbeque brought in and there is usually enough for seconds. This year is no exception.

Sunday morning, I say good by to as many people as possible before heading over to Mom's for a few days. I really love the fact that when I leave the hotel on Sunday, I have a whopping 30 miles to go when most of the riders have hundreds of miles. So before 9:00 a.m. I am back off the bike and waiting for Mom to get home from church.

After two days of helping Mom out around the house, I head back to Athens with stops in Augusta and Washington for more Lions Club Tour of Georgia stops. The only problem with the ride home is the heat. It was over 90 degrees in Augusta - way too early in the year for that.

Overall, the trip yielded about 1900 miles so given the Master's RTE and Milwaukee/Moonshine trip, I top out at about 4,000 miles in a little less than 4 weeks. A really good start to the 2011 riding season.

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