Monday, November 16, 2009

A ride with George, for Thea

Greenville is a great place. Not only are we surrounded by beautiful country and great people, we also have some great weather to get out in with those people and enjoy that country! This past weekend was an excellent example. Unfortunately, it started with someone having a very bad mountain bike accident.

Thea, who I personally don't know (but knew of since the bicycling community really isn't that big in Greenville) was riding her mountain bike at the National Whitewater center (where I understand they have some really excellent trails) when she crashed. She sustained some pretty bad injuries to include 7 broken ribs, 1 cracked vertebrae and a punctured lung. These are the big ones I recall - there may have been others. Thankfully, she sustained no permanent nerve damage, but she was in a tough spot as she had no insurance.

It wasn't long before her friends at Carolina Tri decided to put together a fundraiser to help her during this difficult (and costly) time. Thus the Ride for Thea was born. I first heard about it on facebook, but soon after the emails started flying through the online communities and groups. Many of my P3C3 friends were planning to attend and it was a good opportunity to help out a fellow cyclist, so I too signed up.

I'm not sure when it happened, but the news that George Hincapie was going to ride with the group soon spread. If helping out another cyclist wasn't enough for folks, getting a chance to ride with Big George certainly increased the appeal of the ride.

To add to the fervor, Carolina Tri also lined up Thomas Creek Brewery to provide beverages and also put together a silent auction with some really cool stuff. When I checked the facebook event page a few hours before ride start there was something on the order of 150 confirmed guests. This of course was only the facebook contingent - I was sure there would be plenty of others who are not associated with Facebook.

I assembled my gear, got suited up in my cool Michelin Upstate SC Cycling team kit and headed out from the house. I added a technical t-shirt under the jersey as I thought it might be a little cool on the ride out. I am really glad I didn't choose to get fully outfitted in arm warmers, leg warmers and shoe covers! It was only slightly cool on the short ride from home over to Carolina Tri's downtown location. That wouldn't last long - forecast was calling for highs in the mid '70s!

As the crowd assembled in and around Carolina Tri, I was amazed at the turnout. The folks from Carolina Tri probably have a better number, but I'm betting there was close to 300 people who came out to ride with George for Thea. An awesome show of support.

The route was similar to routes I have ridden before, roughly from Downtown Greenville out Buncombe road towards Paris Mountain. The official route would skip Altamont road and continue parallel to Hwy 276. From Travelers Rest, it would link up to Tigerville road and follow that all the way to Hwy 253. Up 253 and through Tigerville. Past Hwy 11 and a right turn on Hwy 912. The route then looped up over Calahan Mountain, down past Camp Old Indian to turn back on Dividing waters road. Going back was reverse of the outbound route.

With Big George in the group, I wasn't really sure how things would pan out. I'm just a guy who likes to ride a bike, but there are a lot of guys who can put down a hard pace. What would it mean to these guys knowing Big George was riding with us? Would it turn into a hammer fest from the start, or would Big George's presence bring a level of calm to the group? I knew one thing - I was going to stay with the main pack for as long as I could get away with it.

With start time approaching, I was finding my friends and we created our own little group. I met some new folks who had come up from Atlanta to check out our excellent riding scene with the bonus of the cause and the ride with George. We rolled out after some brief announcements and a thank you from Thea herself.

I was pleased when the pace started off reasonable. I mistakenly thought Big George was up front controlling the pace. I found out later that he started in the back and worked his way to the front as we approached the fun (read that as 'climbing') portion of the ride. We stayed together as one big group for a long time. I'm sure we started stringing out a bit as we passed Altamont Road and made our way through Travelers Rest. The pace slowly increased as did our distanced traveled.

From downtown Greenville until we made the left turn onto Hwy 253, there really isn't much in the way of hills - some rollers for sure, but as we made that turn, the rollers started to increase in size. Since our pace was still increasing, I felt for sure the fun (read this one as 'hammer time') was about to begin. I was trying to keep an eye on my peeps as we rode along and I took advantage of several opportunities to put myself closer to the front of the pack (and closer to them). I was still pretty far back relative to some of my friends (like Taylor who was rubbing elbows in the front row), but I think I was in the front 1/4 of the pack.

We passed Tigerville Elementary where the rollers continued to grow. I was sitting in just waiting for the attacks to begin. I was surprised to see that we stayed together as a group until we made the right turn on Highway 912.

From this turn, it is a relatively short (maybe 2/3 mile) moderate climb on Hwy 912 to a left turn on to Callahan Mt Road. Callahan Mt Road is a short (1/3 - 1/2 mile), but quite steep climb. I'd like to give a percent grade, but I don't have any clue of what it is. As I turned on to Hwy 912, I saw the riders going off the front.

Big George had made his way up to the front by this time although I never saw him pass me. I figured he was up there with the lead riders. Eric Christopherson (sp?) riding a really cool fixie (yes, that also means single speed) was off the front and my friend Taylor was up there with them somewhere. I thought I saw Ed 'Leggs' Hernando going big off the front, but I couldn't be sure. I stepped up my pace, no thought to catching the lead guys, just wanted to do the best I could from where I started. It wasn't long before I passed Taylor's dad Perry. I lost Jeni, Courtney, Bo, Nikki and most of my other peeps somewhere along the way.

I was making good time up the Hwy 912 hill, passing some peeps, getting passed by a few as well. After the left turn onto Callahan Mt road, it gets really steep for a short distance. I kept my pace and caught and passed Leggs. Some more peeps managed to sneak by me as we passed others. About the time I made the sweeping left curve, I was getting my second wind. I kicked up a gear and started cranking. I began to overtake those who passed me on the steep section and continued to pass others. As I came around the right hand sweeper, I could see that those in front had stopped at the summit. No surprise, Big George was there. As I came up through the stopped bikes, I saw an opportunity to ride up next to him. I told him "Thanks George, we're all loving it right now". He smiled and gave me 5. Pretty cool.

The descent down past camp old indian is super fun. I didn't want to make that descent in a pack of bikes, so I decided to roll on down. Somewhere along the way my computer had stopped working, so I can't say how fast I might have gotten, but I barely touched my brakes - it was a blast!

At the intersection of old Hwy 25, I stopped for the rest of the group. It wasn't long before the Peloton came rolling up to the intersection. I hung back to find Courtney and her Atlanta friends John, James and Jesse. We had planned on riding Paris Mt on the way back and we needed to coordinate a little. I ended up riding with Courtney and John and it just happened that we ended up right with George. I called out to him at one point "George, are you going to climb Paris Mt with us?" All I saw was a raised hand - I don't know what his response was. As we rode along, I managed to snap a photo of him on his cool bike.

Ok, I know, you can't really tell that's George, so you'll have to take my word for it.

We rode near him for a while. It's cool that he was just one of the riders in the peloton with the rest of us out there. Courtney was close to George, John and I were in line behind her.
At one point, a small gap had formed between the group we were near and the front group. George saw the gap and made a move. Courtney was right there on him with John and I tucking in right behind. Kind of cool to imagine yourself in a grand tour with one of the greatest riders in the peloton pulling you back into the pack. As we re-gained the lead group, I called out "Good pull George". Not sure what he thought, I was amused with myself. We all joked later that George was our domestique for a few moments - ahhh, the imaginations we mortals have!

The peloton continued, still a rather sizable group as we made our way back towards Travelers Rest. The pace had really begun to increase by this time so the group was slowly dwindling down. A small breakaway of about 10 riders had gone off the front. I was feeling good so I gave chase. The riders who were leading the peloton didn't see me coming, so I had a pretty good head of steam as I went past them. I gave it everything I had for as long as I could, but I started to tire before I caught the breakaway. Not to my surprise, as I backed off the pace, I found I had pulled the peloton within striking distance. Those who were leading the peloton when I passed, took over from me and pulled us the rest of the way to the breakaway group. I tucked in behind a few riders and did some recovery. What a cool feeling.

Soon enough, we were passing the TR Walmart. This was the agreed upon re-group area for Courtney and her Atlanta friends who wanted to climb Altamont road. As I pulled off, I started watching for the others. James was the first one I saw - I called out to him and he replied "I'm Spent!" and kept going. I saw Perry, but he had plans of his own. Once the peloton passed, I looked up and saw Courtney and John on the other side of the road. We assembled in front of the Arby's and waited to see who else we would see.

Soon we saw Leggs Hernando. He had to get back home, so he bid us farewell and continued on his way. Courtney was all bubbly with excitement as she had stayed with the main peloton for the entire ride until we made the choice to re-group. Awesome ride for her. We never saw Jesse, so Courtney left a message on his cell phone and we continued our ride.

I tried to give John the low down on the altamont road climb. I described it the best I could as I didn't really know how things would turn out as we made our ascent - I knew he's a good climber from what Courtney had said, so I wanted to give him as much info as possible in the event I wasn't able to stay close to him.

We made the turn onto Altamont road and started our ascent. John set a pretty good pace and by the time we got near the water tower, I knew that pace was too much for me that early in the climb. I told him "It's all you man, go for it" and he began to pull away as I let off slightly. I still kept a strong pace, but I had backed off just enough for him to open a gap. Just past the water tower, we passed a guy in Hincapie kit. Little did we know the significance of that guy in that kit.

As I continued my climb, pride wouldn't let me give up too much ground to John. It was like we had a bungee cord between us. I would reel him in a little, then he would pull forward a little. Overall, I felt like I was gaining ground, but there was still 75-100 meters between us. I hope my description of the climb was adequate, but as I saw him make the final turn before 'the wall', I hollered "HAMMER IT!!!". At this point, he still had 75 meters on me.

I wasn't done though. I clicked up a gear and started rocking. I was in pursuit mode and whether I caught him or not, I was going to give it my best shot. I was surprised to see how much ground I had made up by the time I made the turn at the base of 'the wall'. I was now only about 20 meters behind. I was close!

Seeing him so close gave me an extra boost of motivation. I clicked up two gears and stood up. I powered my way up the wall steadily gaining more ground. When he crossed the summit, I was within 10 meters of him. Yes, he beat me fair and square, but I saw the look in his eyes when he realized how much ground I had made up late in the climb. He was surprised how quickly I closed the gap.

Ok, friendly competition aside, the really cool part was seeing who else had decided to climb Altamont Road. Yep, Big George had indeed said "Yes" when I had called out earlier asking that question. He's such a personable guy. He was posing for photos with the several riders who were at the summit as we came up. John and I looked at each other and I had to go for it. I asked, and Big George was kind enough to spare a few moments for our own photo op. I asked a fellow rider to snap a couple of photos and I'm glad I did. Here are both of them.

Big George had made a stop at the summit of Paris mountain to wait for his friend - you remember the guy (in the Hincapie kit) John and I passed just after the water tower? Yep, sure enough, George made a brief descent to pace his friend back to the top. As they passed, I asked George what his PR up Altamont road was - 8:45! Wow! That is awesome!

Wouldn't you know it, Courtney had not passed George's friend, so until she arrived at the top (less than a minute after they started their descent down the long side) she had no idea that George had been on the mountain. She was a little bummed, but John and I didn't think it fair to ask George to wait around.

There was one last thing I needed to show our Atlanta guest - the descent! John and I hammered down the long side of Altamont road and had a wicked blast doing it. A (very) brief stop for Courtney to catch up and the three of us continued our ride at a more leisurely pace towards our downtown destination. We met up again with our many cycling friends enjoying the food and beverages at the Carolina Tri store. It was a fantastic day for a ride, with some really great people and through some very beautiful countryside.

Have I mentioned what a great place Greenville is?


  1. Awesome post and it was an awesome ride too. I was out there but didn't have near the luck of seeing George that you did. My kids were hoping I'd bring back pictures similar to your's, but they'll have to wait for the next opportunity.
    I spent the day trying to bridge the gap to the front group of about 40 riders. I was in the second big wave that got caught in some early red lights. Do you know what your average speed was before you made your Altamont climb?...I finished with an average of 17mph, so I assume I was behind you the whole way. But even though I didn't get to see George, it couldn't have been a better day for a ride.

  2. Greg,
    My computer battery was dead about half way on the ride so I didn't get any kind of average. It was reasonable (17-18ish maybe) for the ride to Callahan mt, but after that, it picked up a bit.

    I remember seeing you, but I can't recall exactly where it was...There was two good photos of you on the link they sent... I was looking for the link, but I can't seem to find it this moment.

    It was a really beautiful day for a ride. I'm glad I joined in.

  3. JD, awesome post! I'm honored to be a part of your November 16 posting. Such a cool and memorable day! Great new friends and look forward to my next trip up to ride with you guys!

    John DeRussy from ATL

  4. Greg,
    Here's the link. There is two good shots of you in here somewhere:

    Good riding with you. I need to get out that way and ride some of those gaps!



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