Note: This is a long and perhaps tedious account of the '98 Rural Heritage Tour. Here's the short version: it was wet, it was fun, and if you missed it, you missed a good ride and a cool T-shirt.
It only seems fair that, given my account of last year's ride, I offer my impressions of the '98 event. As anyone who rode the '97 Rural Heritage Tour will remember, the route was marked in such a way (arrows right at the intersections) that many riders missed turns, made U-turns, or got lost. The '98 RHT was much, much improved in this respect, and had much to offer for cyclists of any skill level.
The Tarwheelers used the same route as last year, which is a northern, 100K loop. The century route adds a 37-mile southern loop down around Cane Creek Reservoir. They also have a 8-mile fun ride, a 50K loop, and an extra leg on the century route to yield a 200K ride. The routes themselves make the ride worthwhile. The 100K loop is relatively flat, through very scenic countryside. The southern loop is somewhat more hilly, but through bona-fide farmland that's a welcome sight to those of us from southern Wake country who contend with urban sprawl every day.
Anyway... I decided to drive over to Hillsborough solo, rather than team up with other riders as I usually do. My plan was to ride the 100K route fast and hard, and if I had any legs left, do the remaining loop slow and easy. I guess it's predictable that with the drop-dead gorgeous weather we had had all week, we'd wake up to rain Saturday morning. The forecast called for things to clear, so I headed on over and got my gear ready.
Having organized a number of the NCBC rallies, I have to say I'm impressed with the manpower that the Tarwheelers bring to bear for the Hillsborough ride. Most our rallies are done on the backs of 4-6 people, and the events turn out pretty much OK. The Tarwheelers had 2-3 times that many people simply directing traffic. In short, they have a broad base of participation that makes for a very well organized event.
The Tarwheelers have established the Rural Heritage Tour as an event that appeals to cyclists of all skill and experience levels, and this becomes apparent as you see the cyclists gather. Beside me in the parking lot was a woman, her two elementary-aged children, and her mother. They had three generations riding together in an organized cycling event. In this respect the Rural Heritage Tour does a fantastic job of promoting cycling as an enjoyable sport for all ages, and I really respect that.
The registration packet included a truly cool T-shirt designed by local artist Margaret Muller, with the American Gothic couple outfitted in cycling gear. The artwork seems very fitting for a rural cycling event in a historic setting. I like it! The packet also included a rider number. This seemed odd, since there was no obvious value of having a number (unlike, say, the Assault on Mt. Mitchell where the riders have to be paired up with their bikes), and they're a pain to pin on. I stuck mine in my jersey pocket and was never asked for it.
The ride got off to a slightly delayed start. The Hillsborough Police were on hand to show off their new bike patrol officers. Don Belk and Lori Shapiro gave their advice and encouragement over the PA system, and finally we were off. Because the Tour attracts such a variety of riders, I wanted to be toward the front and stay with the lead group. This isn't being snobbish - I've just seen some dangerous things happen, such as wheels overlapping, when you have lesser experienced folks riding in a large, fast pack. The roads were wet and a bit slippery, but we made our way out of town OK. I don't know if there were any problems behind me.
Although the conditions were wet, I figured that I had in the past paid more money to ride in worse conditions (anyone else remember the '95 Blue Ridge Brutal 100?). At least the rain and overcast skies kept things cool, although it was easy to get a rooster-tail in the face from the rider in front of you, which made riding a paceline somewhat awkward. We never hit hard rain, although I heard other riders had.
Having a slightly familiar route was helpful, and the route really was much better marked than last year. I'll confess up front that having marked many routes myself my opinions on the topic are probably stronger than those of most normal people. What I really liked was that they put down lots of "confidence" arrows that would let you know you were on course. They also used a stencil so that the arrows had a distinctive shape and not readily confused with all the other type markings you'd find on the road. What they didn't do, however (pet peeve time, here) is put arrows down beside the "intersection ahead" signs. This practice, which Don Edwards introduced me to, lets you expect where you may find markings and gives you *plenty* of advance notice of turns. Some of the arrows were close enough to the intersections that the turns were abrupt, but no one to my knowledge missed a turn or got lost.
So, the lead group worked its way north. We were riding at what I considered a comfortable pace until Jack and Donna Powell blasted by on their tandem. I knew things were going to jump, and before long we were cruising at 30+ down a long stretch. Gregg Warren pulled up and said hello, but then flatted and pulled off to the side. What some folks won't do to take a rest! Not much later, Jack and Donna flatted, and we wouldn't see them again until we returned to Hillsborough. The rain came and went. Some roads were a little rough, but they offered good traction and were less likely generate rooster tails.
We passed the first couple rest stops without stopping, the lead group thinned to maybe 20 riders. The group was somewhat unstructured, morphing between a double paceline, a single paceline, sometimes fast, and sometimes slow. I sensed other folks in the group were frustrated, but we still made decent time back to the start, completing the 100K in 2:50 or so.
I only saw a few of the riders in the lead group continue on the century route without stopping back in Hillsborough. Most of the century riders I was with concluded they had had enough fun and stopped at the registration tent to enjoy the cornucopia of foods offered there. I myself decided to stop, rest, fuel up, change into dry socks, and then head on out on the century loop. Luckily I was able to team up with Jack and Donna on their tandem, Rick Ferguson and Stella Sable on their tandem, Mike Wallace, and three other riders. We kept a steady pace climbing all the hills as we headed south. Finally after about 20 miles we arrived at the next rest stop, a veritable oasis and smorgasbord combined.
Here again we were presented with the abundance that the BikeFest ride had to offer. There was enough food at the stop to feed us for several days, including delectibles such as homemade cookies and such. The weather had turned sunny and warm by this point, so we all stopped and made the most of all the generous provisions. Finally we headed back, breaking up into two groups. It was nice riding with the tandems, but you can blow yourself out trying to hang with them on the downhills.
Back at the courthouse there were lots of folks gathered enjoying the food and drink offered there. I was hoping for the big tub of iced soft drinks such as they've had in years past, but alas, they had just water and PowerAde. They tasted good, nonetheless.
This go-round I decided to see what SportsPlex was like, so after got my stuff packed I headed over there. What an impressive pool! The water felt great - a wonderful way to end a long ride!
To their credit, the Tarwheelers distributed a survey to get some feedback on this year's Tour. I'll offer my responses here.
The course is worth the cost of admission all by itself. Some of the roads are a little rough, but a wonderful and enjoyable route for sure.
Wonderful food in generous supply, and capably staffed.
|Road markings||Very good
Loved all the confidence arrows, suggest only adding arrows by intersection-ahead signs.
|Cue Sheets/Maps||Very good
Didn't need them, but very good to have emergency phone number listed.
Didn't need any support, but it was very nice to have the clearly marked vehicles patrolling the route.
We have enough Sunday rides as it is, and the traffic is not too bad (which is why the NCBC does their rallies on Sundays). Saturday rides are very nice for folks with Sunday morning obligations.
I understand the logic, but my own experience is that separating the T-shirts is a bad idea, especially for the club hosting the event. It's nice when everyone receives a shirt, and $15 is very reasonable for an event with the level of support that the RHT offers.
My suggestions are:
The route, the food, the organization, and the T-shirt.
A very enjoyable ride!
Page maintained by David L. Cole and last
revised on Tuesday, August 11, 1998.
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