The fall tour has been going on for me for at least the last month now and usually does when I get my freedom from the Forest Service. Traditionally though, Wenger and I do something involving a bike trip, but this go 'round he's nowhere to be found and I've been more making do with the stuff you've been reading about. I caught a ride back to the homeland and when I got to Athens there was all this buzz over The Fall Tour, and after enough days of hearing about I decided I needed to go up and check it out. Now I've heard of this event before when I lived in Athens, but never was convinced to make it. This year was the tenth anniversary, though, so the riding was to be scaled back from the long days of the Tour's repute to accommodate the masses.
Based somewhere in North Georgia, The Fall Tour is four days of abnormally long (for most people) rides on trails that may or may not exist and roads that may or may not take you there. The event itself is a huge personality crisis of all walks of cycling ranging from mountain biking to touring to road racing with plenty of spandex and beer for all and at least five separate competitions rolled into the race and jerseys recycled from God know where and when to designate the leaders of each category. Take it as you will and there's something here for everybody. The crowd this year comprised of mostly Athenians, a few Atliens, a few North Carolinians, a recent transplant to California and myself. There was even a local boy who raced in the Tour de France this summer and brought substantial publicity to Athens from Phil Liggett and Bob Roll, how 'bout that? I never formally met the lad, but everybody said he was real nice and beyond all that he can apparently rip it up on a mountain bike. Dude won the overall race and was never much out of second on any of the downhills and probably even won some of them.
More people arrived Saturday for about 50 in all and among them.....the esteemed Puc-Puggy, the Volkscycle slayer, the New England Red Devil, and Niner Mike with the Paper Bike. I parked the old Breezer next to the paper bike for effect and it was definitely drawing more attention. Beers were put down in the morning that lasts forever and just before roll out a tub of brownies circulated the crowd for anyone who was interested....mmmm....yes please. The ride today would be known as Hog Wild....or Wild Hog backwards....whatever. We rolled back up the river road I used to fish and stashed some beers in the river for later consumption and then on to the Tate City Mall where the ride would regroup for a sprint to the NC state line. Then a timed section up and over Hog Wild and back to the river. I rode off ahead of the group to catch the finish of the sprint and try to avoid the race and while that part worked my attempts were futile and I was soon amidst the race heading up Hog Wild and so I thought I'd better put in some effort. This trail meandered around the flats in the valley crossing a creek and hopping over some logs and I found myself behind some people walking when I didn't want to be so I hopped off did some super jumps and the Breezer floated through the air next to me and five people were now behind me. I had forgotten that the Breezer still is the best climbing bike I've ever known and despite some rather high gearing I found myself charging up a hill in a race and remembering why I quit racing in the first place. It gets worse though. About halfway up the mountain the trail doglegs and turns you straight up and over forcing you to dismount and I found myself in the familiar position of eyes looking to the ground two steps in front of me, twenty something pound object on my shoulder marching straight up a mountain.....uuugh.....work. I remembered why I am retired. My T-shirt was soaked through and I then remembered why I used to wear bike clothes...sweat. Its all coming back to me. I got to the top and had myself a beer though the race continued on. And not a single person passing through could say they weren't racing either; the world around you just becomes you. I opted for the skins jersey and pedaled on down to the river where the ride gathered for more beer. I'd fallen back to somewhere around last place if you're counting.
The ride was done it was a short one, but the race was not over so for formality there was another race section back on the river road but for me and a few others there was a swimming hole. Puc took the nod and dove in before anyone could back out and came up in a shrill scream and I went next and the Volkscycler took some serious convincing before he'd do it but he did and we were all grateful for having gone swimming in the cold river with no sunlight. We rolled back to camp where three batches of chili were cooked along with some chicken and pics were projected onto a screen of the day's ride and stories were told and people were fat and happy and I decided I was over the whole camp fire drinking scene and I went and snuck off to bed.
Sunday would bring another group of fifty plus riders racing to the top of Glassy Mountain and back down through winding sections of singletrack and gravel road and even a little bit of pavement. Beers were again stashed in a creek before the race climb though I always carry mine and afford myself the time to drink them when I want and people make fun of the huge pack I end up riding with and I wonder why it needs to be so big and what exactly I fill it with. No matter, my legs were feeling good and I again found myself in the middle of a race up a mountain....this time on a dirt road with room to pass and still on a bike that wants to do nothing but climb. I thought of ol' Fred Birchmore and Bucephalus and their friendship as travel partners and realized the personality of my own steel horse. The Breezer was really what pushed me that day. She just wanted to go and just kept begging me to dig in the spurs and kick it in gear....I gave it all I had and she still wanted more. I finished the climb making a move to drop the two riders on my tail for a top ten finish and found myself right back in racing mode....as the Foust would say, "Its always a race." People start to take notice when they get old schooled. I just think its fun. The downhill would be an individual time trail. I found myself somewhere in the middle between the people who cared and the people who didn't. I think my ways may have down right offended some people as I refused to put my tire right on the line in starting my time trial. A few people understood though. I started back in a track stand for a drop in entry. And go. I made the steep downhill with arms burning from pulling back the levers of the cantis. There's a reason these things went away. I passed the checkpoint thinking only how much harder these steep downhills are on a rigid bike. This stuff hurts. A short climb then a nice rolling downhill....now this stuff's fun. What a sweet trail. Cross the creek and up for time and cheering and beers. And as he noted...the guy behind me on the full suspension didn't pass me. Woo-Hoo.
I opted to skip the hot-dogs in camp that night and go to Bobby & Betsy's house considering the threat of rain and that I had no tent. Its always great to catch up with them and their family and in the morning we could just ride from their house. And so we did despite the huge thunderstorm that rolled through that morning. We pedaled and pushed through the steep and soft dirt roads that lead to some of the finest trails anywhere in the middle of a wet fall morning in north Georgia with the sun trying to poke its face through the clouds of a lingering morning thunderstorm. We rode up and down the trails and were brushed with wet yellow and red leaves transferring their moisture over to our clothes, but we were never actually rained on. Occasionally the tunnels of Rhododendron would open up and give way to a view of the surrounding mountains. There is nothing like this in the west. I topped the mountain where the big ridge downhill takes off just as the first rider of the tour was launching his downhill time trial. And fortunately for the tour, Puc was just behind me exactly where the fork in the trail is where he hung out to direct the riders who would have otherwise ended up in town hours later. We made our way down big ridge after the race...me on rigid bike and Puc with no brakes, alternating the lead and stopping to clear the morning's blowdown and the tour was waiting at the bottom for us and the next section...Rock Crusher. Now this was an awesome section. A rolling downhill, never too steep but the trail's pretty washed out and so it requires some committing moves. Having cantilever brakes instead of discs I was not able to properly slow myself and was forced to go around anyone who looked twice at a line, sometimes blindly into a wheelie-drop move. I pulled them all off though and passed some riders I would have thought to be faster. Yeah Breezer. Hootin' and Hollerin' till trails end. This is how we roll. And then back to the cars parked for shuttle and the coolers of beer waiting at the end. Thanks to Kelly and Darryl and Jeff and YT and all who make the tour happen year after year. Maybe I'll be back for another round and you can be sure if I do I'll be bringin' some hurt from F-town.