I've ridden a lot of charity rides and "centuries" over the years, but as Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams' one-man Pelotonia team, I can't say I've ever had as much fun as I did Saturday during my maiden 102-mile Pelotonia ramble from Columbus to Athens.
The variety of riders, the great food, the course, the weather, the scenery, the support of people all along the route, the Snow Cone machine (yes!), and of course the Pelotonia organization itself and its cause made the outing a wonderful experience start to finish.
Here now, a recap of the ride:
The sun hasn't completely risen? I don't usually see 6 a.m. on Saturdays. This is special. Eat a hard-boiled egg and drink a grocery-store smoothie, flip on bike lights, then pedal to the start at Chemical Abstracts Services.
Holy peloton. There are about 4,000-odd cyclists in the starting chute that leads to the course and thousands of onlookers and supporters. All around are family members and friends with signs, snapping pictures, hugging people, and offering words of encouragement. We riders are spaced out in "fast", "steady", and "casual" packs. I probably ought to move to steady, but casual looks like a lot more fun this morning.
The fast pack leaves the gate and makes its way around the OSU campus and down South High Street, then the steadys, then the casuals. I'm used to riding with people who like to burn as many calories as possible and get to where we want to go pretty much as swiftly as possible. The weather's beautiful today and I'm in no hurry to get to Athens so I've decided I'm going to max out my time on the route and take it all in.
South High Street. It's all I can do to not keep riding a bit farther south to check out the weekly South High Drive-In Flea Market, but I continue with the pack and make a left onto Dering Avenue. I see a guy on his porch drinking a cup of coffee. He's wearing a primo Kiss T-shirt that I want to buy off his back and I tell him as much.
As I start to fully wake up I start to notice the variety of bikes under the multitude of riders. I see a few expensive tires on bikes that should have been scrapped years ago. I see spotless, brand-new road bikes and shoes. I see ancient mountain bikes with knobby tires. I see a couple of tandems. I see borrowed bikes. I also see a lot of weaving and people riding three and four abreast and I hear a lot of clicky-clacking from bikes whose gears ought to be shifted. The casual pack's ride from the starting line to the first water/food stop (at 12 miles) is akin to a parade without red, white, and blue bunting.
Canal Winchester Middle School Rest stop. "Jeni's! Woo!" Jeni's logo is plastered on my chest and everyone is asking me if I'm carrying pints in my jersey pockets. Next year I plan to carry saddle bags to pick up every tube, pump, and pair of sunglasses that people drop along the route as well as a cooler loaded down with ice cream.
After a flat ride, there are some hills to take on. People are hike-a-biking it, which is fine because you gotta get there any way you can. As I'm thinking about this very thought, a kid in front of me stands to pedal, and instantly slips out of his toe cage, goes down and visions of ACL surgery No. 3 flash into my head as I run over his back wheel but I don't hit the pavement. With no damage done to bikes or bodies, we both pedal off toward the village of Amanda, site of lunch.
Amanda Clear Creek High School. 47 miles ridden. For lots of Pelotonia riders this is the end, the time to party, and the time to eat lunch and meet friends and family. For others, it's the halfway point and as we eat a buffet of excellent road food (four kinds of flat meat sandwiches, plus vegan wraps), there's talk about Starner Road Hill, a 2.1-mile climb looming just around the bend.
Amanda to Starner Rd. More ominous chatter about Starner Road from Pelotonia vets. I've ridden a lot in Fairfield County, but I can't remember most of the names of the roads. I know most of the routes by landmarks (fancy houses; parts cars in yards; mom-and-pop stores; graveyards).
I peel off for a moment to get some post-lunch coffee at a shop, but the shop is out of business. Back on the route, a guy waving a Browns flag is running alongside me and Clear Creek. He apparently is so happy the NFL lockout is over and the NFL season is on that he'll use Pelotonia or any occasion to wear his emotions on his sleeve. Go for it, dude.
I stop at another rest stop, this one at the base of Starner Road. Cramping muscles in riders' lower legs are being tended to in a first aid tent. Bike tires are being inflated. Starner Road Hill awaits.
Starner Road Hill climb. Supporters have planted signs of support all along the grinder of a climb: "This isn't as hard as chemo!" "Beer in Athens!" "Shut up, legs!" People along the road are clapping, offering water, slapping backs -- it's as close as any of us are going to get to the Tour de France.
Halfway or so to the top I hear the Allman Brothers' version of Statesboro Blues blaring through the trees and as I get closer to the source, a kind and gentle woman saying namaste to riders offers me watermelon. She also offers a mist station courtesy of a pair of little girls armed with water bottles. Hell, yes, and hell, yes, please.
Starner Road Hill is history and what do you know? Another rest stop. This ride is a yard party for a lot of locals along the route and I couldn't be happier about it. A fellow in a Vietnam vet ballcap offers me a bottle of water, but I go straight to the Sno-Cone machine in their yard. I bypass the pump station of red, blue, green "flavor" options and dump a Coke over the thing to make a poor man's Icee. With a pump I found a few miles prior I change someone's flat tire then hit the road through the Hocking Hills.
Just short of the ODOT rest stop on Rte. 664 traffic has come to a crawl and Pelotonians are walking bikes on the shoulder of the road. Paramedics' lights are flashing. When I get to the scene I roll past a woman in a neck brace. Oof. Hope she's OK.
ODOT rest stop. 70 miles into the ride. I wale on some more peanut butter and jelly sliders, wolf down a bag of sour cream and onion chips made by America's finest chemists, and guzzle some water. The sun really seems to be heating up the route right about now, and it's on to Logan, Nelsonville, and Athens.
Unofficial Pelotonia stop: McDonald's on 664 to see a cashier about a cup of coffee that I still haven't been able to get my hands on the whole day (missed it at ride launch this morning). I peel off 664, ride through McDonald's grass and hop the curb for a little cyclocross practice session. Cashier: "Still hot out there?" Me, in super hero costume and with dried sweat salt all over my face: "Yep." I go for iced coffee, which always gives me the creeps, but, man, it is hot outside. I take one drink and toss it. It's sweeter than an elephant ear. Ah well.
Logan to Nelsonville: I pedal along, taking in the sites. I see loads of residents and a few businesses showing support for all the riders, including the KFC that has programmed "Good luck Pelotonia Riders" into a rooftop digital billboard.
The route through town that leads to the road that parallels Rte 33 is table-top flat past the Hocking Valley Drive-In ruins before things get rolling and downright hilly.
It's the Athens Manimal!
Joy riding Saturday in his native habitat, A-Man happens upon the Pelotonia pack and shepherds me to Nelsonville for an iced tea at Nelsonville's downtown street festival, the Parade of the Hills, and onto the bike path that leads to the finish line.4 p.m.
After the Athens Manimal snaps a photo of me, eats my camera, and rides straight into the woods, I motor on to Athens.
Bike paths serve great purposes and I don't want to be in a world without them, but they can be trance-inducing, especially at the 90 something-mile mark. I'm really ready to abandon the bike at this point and raise a glass to the people who organize this great thing and the people who ride for the cause.
A few minutes later, going on 5 p.m., I'm riding through the victory chute in Athens and lines of people are waving, yelling "Jeni's!", and saying job well done lots of different ways.
Eleven hours have passed since I left home this morning and it's time to eat, drink, be merry, think about training for next year --- and figure out how to pull a Jeni's serving cart and a couple of assistants to all of the rest stops.
See you at Pelotonia 2012.