My friend Paul was in need of a 600k to complete his SR Series for the year. With little on the calendar this late in the season it looked like North Carolina was the best bet. After some communication with Tony Goodnight, Regional RBA, Paul learned that volunteers were needed for a pre-ride checkout two-weeks before the main event. Seeking some company for the unsupported 378 mile ride he asked if I wanted to join. It seemed like a good opportunity to get in one more late season long ride.
The ride starts in Lumberton, NC, which is right off I-95 quite near the South Carolina border. The starting point is a Super 8 Motel. We undertook the 10 hour drive on Friday to be ready for a Saturday 7:30 am start. The route was advertised as quite flat running near the coast. There was a suggested sleep stop at Sunset Beach, mile 270. We both felt that was a little too far for us (the NC riders are very fast). We opted for Shalotte at mile 258. Our conservative ride plan projected our arrival at 5:40am. I hoped we could better that by riding efficiently. I was considering the ride plan as the worst case scenario.
The Ride - Day 1
We pushed off from the motel right on time at 7:30am, a very civilized hour to begin a long bike ride. The first leg was 44 miles north to Roseboro. After some initial quick turns to get out of Lumberton we found ourselves in rural surroundings with minimal traffic. The route used some country lanes and state roads which were all of good quality. There were nice long stretches without turns. I favor pulling rather than drafting so after we established a nice rhythm I stayed on the front holding a steady pace. The cue sheet was quite accurate, the roads well marked, and not a single pothole to be found. The only obstacle were the dogs. It seems like every home in North Carolina comes with at least one dog and zero leashes. We lost count of how many times we were chased. Mostly, they were friendly pets and were just playing the game. But, one needed to be aware of them or a crash could result. Rain was predicted for much of the day. However, we arrived in Roseboro at 10:30 without a drop having fallen. The skies were decidedly overcast with the air temperature in a comfortable range (70-80F). Neither of us had any complaints.
|Paul riding past blueberry fields|
The next section would be a short one. South for 24 miles to Rocky Point. There were only four cues needed to cover the distance. I remained on the front maintaining the same steady rhythm. We experienced some light rain for very brief periods, but not enough to matter. As of yet we'd not felt the need for any rain gear. We arrived at the control, which was at mile 132. The distance being covered in a total of 9 hours and 40 minutes. We were steadily gaining time on our ride plan, which would get us to our sleep stop at a more reasonable hour. Our arrival at Rocky Point marked the furthest point from the start. The route design has the entire 600k contained in the southeast corner of the state. This would require some tacking around to achieve the required distance. We would double back to the northwest before heading south again. The strategy would make it easier from an organization standpoint to provide support for the riders. No one could ever be further than 80 miles from the starting location. In addition, the terrain would remain relatively the same throughout. We would not reach any of the hillier areas of the state. After a brief break at the control store we pushed off for the 54 mile segment to Garland, which was a town we passed through on the way.
|Passing by Pinelands wooded area|
After some initial confusion about which direction to head from the control we resumed the route. We rode about 11 miles to Elizabethtown and stopped briefly to top our water. There would be no opportunity to do so for the next 61 miles. We became confused as we tried to move on. As it turned out we passed by a turn and had to go back. Then, we missed a cue and came upon a highway, at which point we thought we were off route. Paul's Garmin helped us sort things out, but we lost a little time. To make matters worse I hit a low energy point and was struggling a bit. Paul was feeling good and eagerly took over the front. He picked the pace up to a point that I just couldn't hold his wheel. I could not roll faster than 14 or 15 mph for the next hour. After which, my energy level started to return to normal. We arrived at the control in Hallsboro which, as expected, was closed. We developed an information control question for riders to use on the main ride. Continuing, we had thirty miles left to cover to the sleep stop. It was currently 1:08am. Our ride plan predicted our arrival in Shallotte at 5:41am. Barring any unforeseen problems we would beat that by more than two hours.
My energy level returned to near normal as Paul resumed on the front. I shortly went by him to take my turn at a pull. He quickly went around me again continuing at a faster pace. I was able to hold on as we sped toward the control, which would be our opportunity to sleep. I took a few turns at the front, but mostly Paul was pulling and setting the pace. He had not eaten any solid food for the entire day, being totally sustained by a liquid nutrition system he recently subscribed to. It seemed to be working for him as we rolled by the 400k point in 19 hrs and 10 minutes. The final eight miles to the control went by equally fast and we arrived at 3:08am. Over eight hours ahead of the control closing time. The Comfort Inn and Waffle House were adjacent businesses. I agreed to go to the motel and check-in, while Paul rode over to restaurant to order food for us. Within ten minutes I was sitting in front of a plate of waffles and a steaming bowl of grits. Paul finally went off his liquid diet in favor of a waffle and hamburger. Fully stuffed with food we went to the motel to sleep. I fell asleep the second my head went down.
The Ride - Day #2
|Paul on the bridge to Sunset Beach|
|My Salsa rests on the pier at Sunset Beach|
|Icing the bottles at the control in South Carolina just past Tabor City|
Despite fighting the wind I was pleased with our progress. We were sharing the work on the front and ticking off the miles. We arrived at the control in Boardman by 1:30pm, seven and one-half hours in advance of the closing time. I would treat myself to a lunch of mac and cheese while Paul mixed up more of his magic powder. We were back underway with just one final control to reach before the finish, 18.5 miles in a northeast direction.
|Paul pushing through the wind|
The final leg was almost due west. The wind that had plagued us all day was predominantly from the east. We should get some assist for the last miles. After a quick stop we headed out in good spirits. The terrain and scenery were much of the same, but the wind assist was noticeable to our speed. I continued my mental game using the five mile increments. It was no longer necessary, but it helped to pass the time. The occasional dog chase helped as well. At fifteen miles out it was quite clear that we would finish the ride with lots of time to spare. We both continued to ride strong as we began to recognize the road names from the ride out of Lumberton the day before. As luck would have it we caught the green light to cross the busy road to the finish at the motel. We pulled up at 5:13pm for a time of 33:43. Six hours and seventeen minutes ahead of the closing time. It was my fastest 600k that I could remember.
I enjoy traveling to rides outside the home region. I have ridden in more than half of the fifty states in the US. Each area has it's own nuances that make cycling there a little different. North Carolina offered roads that were incredibly well maintained and motorists that demonstrated the utmost of courteousness. Most importantly, the people we encountered along the way were as nice as they could be. At every stop strangers would approach us and inquire about our ride. They were friendly and seemed genuinely interested in the details of our adventure. To the point of being excited when we told them the distance we were covering. The local people had an appreciation for cyclists and it showed in the way we were treated. The route was cleverly crafted by Tony Goodnight, an experienced Randonneur and Ultra Racer. Tony represents the non-profit group Bicycle for Life. They present a very full calendar of Randonneur events. This late season offering, for which we tested the 600k route, takes place on October 8th. A full line of rides from 200k to 1000k, and all distances in between, are scheduled on that date from Lumberton, North Carolina. It's a great thing to get in on.
Most gratifying about the trip was Paul's successful completion of his SR Series. His list of accomplishments include a full series each year since 2004. It is a streak he very much wanted to maintain. A stomach ailment made this especially difficult for the last two years. His body would simply rebel somewhere over the 200 mile mark making the long rides nearly impossible to finish. He sought help from various medical professionals for the baffling problem. After two years with no improvement a medication was located that had promise. Also, he added a liquid nutrition program, custom designed to his needs, to be used while riding. With two prior 600k's earlier this season ending in a DNF this ride represented his final chance at the series. His perseverance and unwavering dedication to the goal finally paid off. He finished the ride feeling like his problems may be behind him. I couldn't be any happier for him.