Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Friday, February 8, 2013

Southern Hospitality

Today as I write this, I am back home in Massachusetts, looking out at snow falling on our eerily quiet street, as our governor has taken the almost unprecedented measure of banning all non-essential driving on roads state-wide, with the threat of 1 year in jail for violators.  I was surprised to learn that in addition to exceptions made for public safety, there are also exceptions granted to the media. This will enable them to interrupt regular television programming with frequent updates on the growing height of snowbanks, as well as demonstrating how dangerous it is to be out, by showing a low-in-the-pecking-order reporter standing in the surf without a hat or gloves, so we can appreciate the blizzard-force wind-speed based on the frozen reporter's soggy and windswept hair. But the more surprising (to me) exceptions are for vehicles supplying essential businesses like convenience stores and hardware stores.  I was one of the lucky folks who got that very loud blaring blizzard warning through my smart phone a day before the storm even started. After I changed my underwear, I headed out to the shops to join everyone else in the northeast stocking up on bread, milk, beer and driveway salt. Actually, since I don't really live under a rock, I was already well aware of the storm forecast from many news sources (both traditional and new media) and had already purchased plenty of fresh bread and milk before that panic-inducing alert was sounded. But I can say that this new cell phone based Emergency Warning System was very effective in causing general panic and clearing the shelves through the northeast of all bread and milk.

According to the Channel 7 weather blog, we haven't had a proper blizzard ("Using old school requirements of sustained wind speed 35mph--not gusts") here since 2005. In my recent memory, we've had so little snow, that it took a bit of excavating for me to find the snow shovels [Ed. That may be because someone else did all the shovelling!]. Maybe that's why hardware stores are considered essential services, since due to global warming and last winter's non-winter,  everyone here apparently tossed out their snow removal tools and now many folks may need to go buy new snow blowers and flashlights and batteries and such in the middle of the storm. But then the question is: am I allowed to drive to the hardware store to buy the stuff, or is it only the delivery truck that can restock the shelves for customers who aren't allowed to drive there to buy it? I'm so confused.

Maybe I should have stayed in North Carolina a bit longer. Oh right, that's what this post is supposed to be about - my ride in NC last weekend. So let's get on with it!
The randonneuring community is pretty awesome. 

Last week, I was down in NC visiting my dad again. I had a very nice solo ride on my previous trip.  Just in time for this visit, I got approved to join the NC Randoneeurs email list.  I decided to see if I might be able to find some company for my next long ride there.  So Thursday evening, I sent out email to the list looking for some fixies or fixie-tolerant folks to ride with on Saturday. 

I got a reply almost right away from Martin Shipp, who told me about a 100km permanent that he would be doing on Saturday, with at least one rider on a fixed gear. Jerry Phelps was next to reply, confirming that he'd be there on fixed, his ride of choice these days. Next up was an email from Branson Kimball, also known as bullcitybiker. We had corresponded over email in the past but had never met. Branson couldn't make the full ride, but would meet us en route on his fixie. Mike Dayton, newly elected RUSA president, chimed in next. He was still dealing with a sore achilles, after doing a mere 600km ride in freezing conditions the prior weekend, but would come out on fixed if we kept the speed down! Ha, like I can ride any other way. Mike and I had also corresponded in email before, and we were both excited to meet face to face.

Over the next few hours, lots of emails were exchanged, including a final one from Martin telling us the original plan for the ride was to introduce some new folks to randonneuring, so we should be on best behavior. 

Brad had done a couple of populaire-permanents in the fall and now had enticed his friend Greg to come on Greg's first ever randonnee, as well as his longest ever ride. Rounding out the crew was Robert, who in 2011, came oh so close to going from 0 to 1200km in one year. 

Jerry, Mike, Branson and I were on fixed bikes, with Martin, Robert, Brad and Greg riding broken bikes - well OK, bikes with multiple gears and the ability to coast. 

The start was cold - almost Boston-cold. I saw a prediction of 20F for the morning low, but mercifully, it had warmed up a bit by our 10AM scheduled start. It was still below freezing though. I had brought slightly warmer clothes than on my previous trip, but I would have been much happier with an even heavier pair of gloves and some overshoes - all of which I left in Boston, of course.

We had a slightly late start, as Greg wasn't quite ready to go on time, and we all tried to be kind to the new guy. He'll learn! But it was darn cold, and after standing around a bit, we were all chilled. Of course the best way to get warm is to ride hard, but this broke the group up a bit. We regrouped a couple of times, but at some point, the terrain and fixie dynamics made it such that the fixies formed one group and the geared folks were in another. 

The ride started in North Raleigh and headed out to Bahama. For those non-locals, the pronunciation is Ba-Hey-Ma. Bahama was named for the three leading families in town - Ball, Harris and Mangum. My grandmother was a Mangum, and I don't know, but I may be the first rider of this particular event to have this kind of connection to the town! We had our first information control in Bahama, near the Methodist Church where the tobacco industrialist and philanthropist, who's name is almost synonymous with Durham, attended Sunday school as a child. This family also had a great influence on my life, as the foundation created by one of the family members paid most of my way through college!

We passed the beach at Lake Michie and climbed up one of the many hills en route. In one of the emails, Martin said "The course is NOT flat, but has no long climbs, and I assert that it has no hills -- only creek valleys to cross". Long time readers know that I like my hills, so I certainly wasn't bothered, and in fact was quite happy to have some variation in the terrain, but I did feel bad for the unsuspecting newcomer, doing his longest ever ride, when we hit the three toughest climbs in the waning miles of the event. 

But I've gotten ahead of myself, which is easy to do when spinning a fixie wildly down a hill!

Branson had family obligations, so just came out to intercept us for a short while along the way. Our meeting was all too brief, and I look forward to having another chance to ride together in the future.

Not too long after Branson left us, we entered the town of Stem, where eagle-eyed Mike and Jerry spotted a bar-b-q truck. The sandwiches were awesome, but the outdoor seating violated all my rules about how not to get chilled on a randonnee. The geared folks rolled up just as we were finishing our sandwiches and gave us their blessing to roll on and warm back up.

Given that this control was in Stem, I asked if the next control might be in a town called Crank or Saddle. Among several firsts for me today, this was my first randonnee with a control in a town named for a bike part! 

Chilled, but with full bellies, the three fixies rolled out in search of our next info control. But we had to fight a strong headwind to get there. For those newbies who don't know this, there is no such thing as a tailwind in cycling. There are headwinds, crosswinds, or "I'm feeling good!" Apparently we'd been feeling really good heading out, because we now had a very stiff wind in our faces for the ride home. Fortunately Jerry and Mike are both big enough for a pixie to tuck in behind and benefit greatly. 

Next thing I knew we were back at the start, where the temperature now showed an almost balmy 43F. This was such a wonderful ride, and it was so nice being able to hook up with a group of like-minded folks for a fun ride. I'll definitely try to do more riding with the NC Randonneurs on future trips. 

I definitely missed my handlebar bag (and camera - sorry for the lack of photos)- so I'll have to pack it next time, along with my overshoes and heavy gloves! Thanks again to everyone for such a warm welcome on a chilly day!


  1. What a fun day riding with you. Let's do it again.


  2. "Bahama was named for the three leading families in town - Ball, Harris and Mangum. My grandmother was a Mangum, and I don't know, but I may be the first rider of this particular event to have this kind of connection to the town!"

    Well, I know the answer to that: yep, another first on the day for Fixie Pixie.

    Btw, I've known the 3-families story since 1985 (when I moved to NC the first time), but no one ever seemed to know the exact story. So, a first for me, too -- actually getting the correct story, from a descendent, no less!

    "... but the outdoor seating violated all my rules about how not to get chilled ... ."

    I'm glad to hear that someone besides me was not sanguine about standing / sitting in the cold outdoors, doing nothing.

    Can you write my blog posts? Many fewer typos, etc.. And a heckuva' lot better written!

    All-in-all, a fun day. I hope that I get to ride a little with you again. (I have another perm-pop, 138-kms, NOT flat, has valley crossing and even some actual hill-like things. DSS and BB are the only north of Raleigh + Durham perm-pops we have, currently. Several 200+ km perms, though. A couple are rather "climby".)