During the past few years, my local rides have principally been to the north and east of Raleigh. Infrequent excursions to the south typically involve disoriented (and often lonely) periods of "dead reckoning", while trying to find my way to the end of the ride on unfamiliar roads.
When David Cole told me about the inaugural Raven Rock Ramble (RRR), my first thought was a selfish one: "I wonder if he's going to make us climb the Col de Moncure?" Some of you may remember it as that (fill in your favorite expletive), never-ending, breathtaking, hill on NC42 that apparently must be included in every route to the south of Raleigh. So before making a commitment to participate, I discretely asked David for a preview copy of the RRR cue sheet. To my delight, I saw that he had miraculously found a way to avoid my nemesis.
Although the ride start wasn't particularly early, there was a chill in the air. In hindsight, I believe the moist air resulting from the starting location's proximity to Harris lake probably amplified the chill. Harris Lake County Park is an excellent place for an event such as the RRR. Its features include adequate parking, bathrooms, covered picnic areas, and rural roads. Its only drawback are numerous speed-bumps on the access road.
There was an excellent turn-out, particularly for an inaugural event, with representation from a wide variety of cycling enthusiasts that one expects for a ride for a "cause". In this case, the beneficiary is the National Kidney Foundation. The speed bumps sedated the pack, resulting in a relatively tame pace for the first couple of miles, but it wasn't long before a line of tri-bikes flew past the pack and the pace quickened. As is the case with many charity rides, the Raven Rock Ramble offers 62, 31, and 10 mile alternatives to the featured century (102 mile) route. Experience will teach you that the cyclists who plan to ride the shorter distances are the culprits who push the pace until the routes diverge. This tactic has 2 results: it provides the hammer-chasers with their first visit to the realm of anaerobia, and it changes the plans of a few cyclists who previously were planning to ride the complete century. The RRR was no exception, and when the routes split, the majority of the riders left in the pack chose the metric route. Road Dogs comprised more than half of the "pack" that remained on the century route.
From my perspective, the pace eased-up only slightly after the metric hammers departed. We were on a relatively flat portion of the route, which allowed many of us to enjoy a euphoric return from anaerobia. The pace leveled-off at around 21-22 mph, and the pulls at the front became more predictable, which was a welcome relief from the surges we experienced while chasing the racer-dudes prior to the metric split.
Somewhere within the first half of the ride, the pack must have individually come to the mutual conclusion that we enjoyed each other's company. Most Road Dogs will be astonished to hear that when someone announced that they intended to stop for a bio-break, the whole pack waited. On another occasion, one bike had a flat tire, and the whole pack waited. Three times is a charm, so when we took advantage of a well-placed SAG stop at around mile 70, everyone stopped and we departed as a group.
Even in the absence of the Col de Moncure, this route cannot be described as "flat" since it passes through the town of Broadway. I'm sure there's a geological term to describe the phenomenon, but all a cyclist needs to know is that there are numerous hills in the vicinity of Broadway that provide nearly continuous entertainment during the middle third of the RRR Century route. It's very difficult for a pack of cyclists to remain together under such conditions, but thankfully (from my perspective) we managed to exit this section with the group intact. We finished the century in somewhere around 5 hours. Even though we finished after most of the cyclists who rode the shorter routes, there was still plenty to eat when we arrived at the finish-line picnic area.
In summary, every aspect of the Raven Rock Ramble is excellent and I highly recommend including it in your plans for this year. Even if you have a tendency to become disoriented when cycling to points south of Blue Jay Point, you'll find that the route is well marked, the cue sheets are excellent, and (if a miracle can repeat itself) you'll enjoy the company of a friendly pack.
Information regarding the second Raven Rock Ramble on 5/4/2003 is available on the web page: www.ravenrockramble.addr.com
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