With 159 counties, Georgia has about 30 counties more than Alabama and Florida combined. In fact, it’s second only to Texas for the most counties in the entire US. This explains why instead of being the second or third state I finished, it ended up being the fourth state despite being the state I ride in the most (behind Alabama). It makes sense, though, because the southeastern parts of Georgia are farther away than almost the entire eastern half of Mississippi and much of the panhandle of Florida – the two states (besides Alabama) that I finished first.
With the start of classes only a few days away, and department meetings during the week, I did not have much time to squeeze this in. In fact, in a perfect world, I would have waited to ride through the remaining 22 counties I was missing in eastern and southeastern Georgia on the way to our Savannah summer vacation spot over the next few years. But, it’s not a perfect world. The hostility I face on the bike is increasing every day. The number of people driving cars is increasing every day. People drive faster and faster as the police’s ability to enforce traffic laws is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of traffic and the “will of the people” demanding higher speeds. You can see where all these paths are heading. There is no guarantee about tomorrow. And to be this close to finishing Georgia, I didn’t want to leave it to chance.
Back to the ride itself, I headed home after an afternoon meeting on Wednesday and went to bed by about 5pm with the goal of leaving the house by about 8pm to try to start riding by 2am (5 hour drive plus timezone change). It was in the low 40s when I pulled off the interstate crossed over to an empty right next to an onramp where a couple trucks were parked. I opted for the edge of the lot (instead of the on-ramp) after double checking to make sure I wasn’t blocking any entrances to a field or farm behind the lot. I got everything ready and headed out dressed for 40 degree weather.
UPDATE 3/20/21! After I started writing this blog, I hit lifetime eddington 200today on my ride to the NICA race pre-ride, but when I first started writing the blog a couple weeks ago, I still had “one to go”.
One of my most successful racing disciplines was criteriums. I could use strategy and positioning to get good results. I never had the raw power and speed that other talented cyclists had, but I could read a race pretty well. The ultimate example of a criterium is the Athens Twilight race in Athens, Georgia where you do 80 laps of a 1km rectangular course right in the heart of downtown Athens. Chad Andrews would call out “one to go, one to go, one to go” many times in a row like an auctioneer as we went screaming by at 32-35mph at the start of the final lap. I can recall hearing this phrase repeated so many times in so many races over the years.
On a much slower time scale, my latest adventures have brought me to the start of the final lap of hitting my Eddington 200 goal. Even as recently as 2019, I had thought 200 would be a tough lifetime goal. But these adventures I keep having have pushed me much faster towards that goal … so much so that I should hit that goal next week. I’ve expanded that original goal out to 250 now, and that really will take a long time, even at the rate of 15 per year (which is a LOT), it will be at least 10 years before I make it there. But I will still be very relieved to have made it to 200 since at one point it was my lifetime goal.
On my really long “uncertain” rides where the finish is not guaranteed, where anything can happen, I am always happy and relieved to cross 200 miles even if I still have 100+ miles left. The thought process is: “well, no matter what happens from here on out, I’ve hit 200 and nothing can take that away”. So on a much larger scale, hitting an Eddington 200 will be a big milestone for me. I’m aiming for 250 lifetime now and hope to hit that in the next 10-15 years. At which point I will expand it out again, but I think based on the way eddington works I’m likely to max out somewhere around 253.
In search of gators and the current time of day (or night) Saturday, March 13th, 1:30am
My most recent adventure was a somewhat spontaneous 435 miler (32 hours elapsed, 45 minutes sleep on the floor of a post office) – starting from Morris, GA and looping down through Apalachicola, FL (the southernmost point on the Florida Panhandle) before returning back up to Morris. My original 450 mile, 5 state adventure I had routed leaving from Memphis was doomed with cold rainy weather. I wasn’t going to drive four hours to go ride in a cold, nasty rain for 30+ hours … especially when I could drive three hours the other direction and ride in what I thought would be warm, sunny weather. As it turns out, it was quite sunny and warm but only during the day. It dropped down to upper 40s both nights, which of course isn’t really that cold, but underdessed and exhausted anything below 60 degF can be quite chilly.
The ride ended up being a weird case study of “sleep” and “time”. I got up on Friday at 3am so that I could get a lot of work done and tired enough to go to bed by 6pm and get a couple hours of sleep before driving to Georgia to start my ride about midnight. Well, I forgot that Georgia is an hour ahead.
So it was 1:15am by the time I finished the drive there and 1:33am by the time I left the church parking lot with a note on my car saying I’d be gone before church Sunday morning … well, I was laughably wrong, especially losing another hour because of daylight savings time. But it gets even stranger – the Apalachicola River divides Florida itself into two timezones. I started out in Georgia in eastern time, but crossed back over into central time (without realizing it) when I crossed the huge 3 mile bridge where the Apalachicola empties into the Gulf of Mexico at the town of Apalachicola.
Even with the sun setting much earlier than I had expected, I didn’t realize it was because I was in the central timezone until a few hours later when I made it up to Blountstown, Florida and crossed the Apalachicola River again to hit a hard-to-reach Florida county (Liberty County). Well, as it turns out, this would take me back into Eastern timezone. This time I noticed the sign on the bridge telling me I was entering the eastern time zone and then it all made sense that I had been in the central timezone for a long time! Ironically, I was simply crossing the bridge (quite long with lots of swamp on either side of the very large river) to immediately turn around on the other side since that would be enough to cross the “missing” county from my southeastern county map.
Fast forward about an hour to 12:30 in the morning, and I hit 24 hours elapsed time on my ride. I wanted this ride to count for the Strava Gran Fondo, so I stopped the ride and started a new ride. But since I was still in the Central Timezone, it started at 12:43 am after the excruciatingly long time I was waiting for the first ride to finish saving. I rode slowly during that whole time so I’m missing a couple miles of the ride that didn’t get recorded in either ride. About 10 miles into my new ride, I crossed back over into Georgia, which is entirely in the eastern timezone which meant it was already past 2am in the eastern timezone which meant daylight savings time had already happened, which meant I lost an additional hour. So instead of 1:30am, it jumped all the way to 3:30am at the border!
I had started this 32 hour ride on just 2 hours of sleep. No problem making it through the first night (Saturday morning). But I knew Saturday night into Sunday morning would be challenging. Sure enough, I was riding so slowly b/c of how sleepy I was that when I came to a town (Damascus, GA) at 430am on a Sunday morning and everything closed, I did a google search for post office and there was one a tenth of a mile away. I biked straight there, propped my bike outside the building, and was asleep in less than 5minutes. Sound asleep, too, as I have no memory of any passage of time at all as it felt I woke up instantly with a jolt (you can see that in my heartrate data).
Rested, I started to take off, but part of the reason I had wanted to stop and sleep was so that maybe I could rest enough to start riding fast again, and also because I was freezing. Thankfully the gas station across the street had opened at 5:30am and so it was open when I left the post office. In this town, it must have doubled as a mini-store because they had a limited selection of clothing items … including a 4XL (XXXXL) long sleeve white t-shirt for $6. I also bought cotton full finger work gloves for $2 and they had a selection of University of Maryland beanies (no other team, just Maryland). Did I mention I was in the southwest corner of Georgia? Why was there about 10 beanies from the University of Maryland mounted on the wall for sale and no other teams at all. Just Maryland, lol. In any case, I bought one for $4 and since I already had a beanie, used it to stuff into the top of my jersey to act like a gaiter.
This really helped for about an hour until I started to get too hot – now that I was rested and able to push the pace harder and get my heartrate back up into the triple digits. Also, the sun came up and started to warm things up as I crawled my way uphill and over many ridges to get back to the start.
Huntsville Wandering on the way to the NICA pre-ride Friday, February 19th, 10:32pm
One of the coolest venues and races on the NICA calendar is the Huntsville rocket center race, where middle school and high school kids get to race mountain bikes around and under rockets in and around the woods surrounding the rocket center. Normally, they get to ride right underneath the space shuttle, but the shuttle is currently being repaired and they decided to keep the course routed just to the left of the booster rockets and massive fuel tank.
I like to ride up there Friday night into Saturday to meet the family in time for the Saturday afternoon pre-ride. This year, it was going to be very cold as evidenced by the quite extensive ice beard I developed by the time I reached the Tennessee River with temperatures in the teens all night bottoming out at 14 degF in the cold valley before reaching the river.
Also, to get there in time, I had to leave late Friday night and ride through the night. I was taking many new roads I had never ridden before and ended up taking a dirt road through the middle of the massive Skyball ridge line popping out onto Co Rd 7 somewhere in the middle. As I turned left onto Co Rd 7, I didn’t notice anything unusual until there was a gate (open) across the entire county road. I thought that was really odd to have a gate on a county road (never seen that before!), but since it was open I rode right on through. About 100 meters later, though, there was a giant pile of dirt and grass blocking the entire road. I could see where cars (and ATVs) had driven around on the right, so I just rode around on the right, too … not realizing that just past this was a massive sink hole.
Keep in mind, it was pitch black dark in a very rural part of Alabama, with no houses or anything nearby. Thankfully, the gate and the dirt pile had me fully awake and alert, and I stopped just short of the sinkhole seen in the picture below. Thankfully I was climbing uphill not going very fast.
This would have required an hour long detour to get around via roads, making it faster to crawl down into the sinkhole if necessary and somehow get out the other side. But thankfully there was a cliff edge still in place on the right side. You could see where people had been scrambling across (but surely none of them carrying a heavily loaded bike!!!). I started out OK, but the scree gave way at some point and it was quite the puzzle to figure out how to get me and the bike over. See caption below for details:
The rest of the ride up was “uneventful” comparatively, but it was absolutely amazing (and freezing!). Once I made it up to the river, I took a dirt road through a wildlife refuge (open to cars and bikes) that would normally have been impassable because of the mud, but all the mud was frozen solid and you could fly over it like hard-packed dirt.
North Alabama had a few inches of snow a couple days earlier (Wednesday), but Birmingham only got cold rain and flurries. So once I made it to Huntsville proper, I enjoyed seeing all the snowmen and snow covered yards (in the shade), especially on the north side of town. I rode over 100 miles around Huntsville riding as many neighborhoods as I could in an intricate pattern trying not to reuse the same road twice or ride any of the roads that I’ve already ridden.
The NICA race itself the next day was a mud-fest given the melting snow and freezing temps overnight to keep it from drying out. Still, as it was the first race of the season, everybody had a blast on a race that will be remembered for a long time, especially the early races as it was windy and sunny enough to dry out the course pretty well by the end of the day.
Finishing all the counties in Mississippi Saturday, February 6th, 12:46am
At the very end of last year, I completed the Rapha Festive 500 in a single 313 mile ride that went through all the counties I was missing in Southern Mississippi. This just left six counties in Northern Mississippi to ride in to complete my Mississippi county map. So on a Friday night I drove the two hours over to Tupelo, MS and parked at the Natchez Trace visitor center to ride 265 miles through all those missing counties.
It started out very cold. Mid 20s all night long. Ice beard by morning.
Then it warmed up into the 40s and started to rain … hard … for a long time.
I was extremely cold.
I finished and was shaking so bad I couldn’t get my gloves off, I couldn’t get the car door open. I had to calm myself down for a minute or two. Also, it was still pouring down rain so I was trying to figure out how to minimize the amount of water getting into the car as I got my bike put away and moved my dry clothes from the back to the front. It was a lot of thinking and planning to do when utterly exhausted, hands so number they weren’t working right, and on the edge of hypothermia (or perhaps a little bit there already).
My ride Friday night into Saturday was the last 200+ mile ride I needed for a lifetime eddington number of 200. When I’m currently on a really long ride, I’m always thankful to hit 200 b/c that means that, no matter what, that ride will help me towards the eddington 200 goal. At some point early last year, I knew I would need to update the goal given how quickly I was approaching eddington 200, but still, there is something about reaching this milestone that hasn’t quite sunk in yet (mainly because I’m now in pursuit of the longer eddington 250 goal).
This was a great ride as I’ve ridden between Birmingham and Anniston many times, and it was nice to search for new roads. My goal was to ride as much of Anniston as possible … a couple observations:
Anniston is very hilly. I saw 23% gradient on my Garmin at one point, which means the actual instantaneous gradient was probably a bit steeper even.
Southwest / West Anniston has a pretty bad dog problem. I’m guessing that it probably builds on itself. Somebody leaves their dogs loose, and the neighbors see that as acceptable, and so others follow suit. I lost count, but it was conservatively in the range of 25-50 different dogs chasing me (not at the same time!) through all the neighborhoods streets. Only one of the dogs made me worried. Most of the dogs, you just had to point at them without even saying anything to make them stop chasing. Others, you’d have to give an additional “no” command. But one dog was not deterred by anything and made a lunge at me. But I dodged it and he got startled (I guess because he was surprised he missed?)
Despite the dogs, it really was a great ride and I remembered back to this ride and even rode near (but tried to avoid riding on) some of the same roads from this ride back in 2012: Exploring, climbing, riding the Oxford-Jacksonville ridge line – which still ranks up there as one of the most fun days I’ve had on the bike (probably slid down a bit now, but easily still in the top 10).
No matter what craziness might happen in life from here on out, my eddington 200 goal is complete and cannot be taken away. Similar to how I have felt in the past during a 300 mile ride when I hit the 200 mile mark, I should be happy/content to have at least made it to 200. But that just hasn’t hit home yet. Maybe it will soon! I think it’s partly because of how busy I am right now separate from these long adventures that it has taken me nearly a month to write this blog, as when I first started writing it my eddington number was at 199 with 2 more rides left to hit 200. Then, I still wasn’t finished the blog by the time I did another 200+ mile ride last week. At that point, I really was at 1 to go and wanted to finish the blog this past week. But it didn’t happen and I actually hit my 200 goal before finishing the blog. There is no danger of me bumping up the number before finishing the blog now because I need not one, not two, not three, but SEVEN rides of length 201 miles to bump up to 201. This is quite indicative of how I would need to add on miles to bring my ride up to 200. And then I would calculate as I was finishing up the ride what I could add on to take me up to 200 right about the time I was hitting the finish. So I have six rides exactly 200 miles long. Sometimes I didn’t get it right, however, and it would be 201, or 202 … so there are a bunch of those distances too. This means that it’s going to be a lot of long 250ish mile rides to advance past EACH of the next few eddingtons. Then once I hit about 230ish, it will be mostly one additional ride each time to take me up to the next number, as I pushed most of those rides all the way out to 250.